REBEL Core Cast 43.0 – Measles + Antivax

Take Home Points

  • Measles is highly infective: One infected person can infect approximately 10-20 unvaccinated people
  • 2 doses of MMR is 97% protective
  • Unvaccinated people can acquire measles from travel to endemic areas with low vaccination rates
  • There is a large amount of misinformation on the internet
  • Misinformation uses fear based messaging and the power of story
  • The evidence is overwhelming > 23,000,000 patients showing no evidence of any link between autism and MMR
  • Anecdotes are not evidence but vulnerable patients may be more susceptible to story then statistics
  • We should add anecdote as a tool to counsel patients

REBEL Core Cast 43.0 – Measles + Antivax

Measles Review:

  • R 9-18:  One infected person can infect approximately 10-20 unvaccinated people
  • Transmitted via respiratory droplets
  • Aerosolized viral particles remain in the air for 2 hours
  • Exposed people who are not immune have a 90% chance at becoming infected
  • Incubation period of 10-14d from the day of first exposure
  • Patients are contagious 4 days before classic rash and 4 days after onset of rash (approximately 8 days total)
  • Patients can shed the virus before we can distinguish the illness a typical viral syndrome
  • Classic features are cough, coryza, conjunctivitis, maculo-papular rash
  • Rash spreads from head to trunk and extremities and resolves the same way
  • Koplick spots are grayish blue lesions on the oral mucous which are present in 70% are pathognomonic

Measles Epidemiology and New Outbreaks:

  • We can prevent and eradicate measles
    • 2 doses of MMR is 97% protective
    • Easily diagnosable clinical syndrome
    • No animal reservoir
  • Vaccine first licensed in 1963 and measles rapidly declined
  • Prior to immunization estimated 2-3 million deaths globally per year
  • Still leading cause of vaccine preventable death (>100,000 deaths/year globally)
  • Requires 90-95% vaccine coverage to maintain herd immunity
  • In 2000 US eradicated measles with high vaccine coverage
    • (no sustained transmission of virus for more than 12 months)
  • Estimated 21 million deaths prevented worldwide since 2000 due to vaccination
  • Rise in new measles outbreaks (31% increase from 2016 and 2017)
  • 704 cases since January 2019 (Largest number since measles declared eradicated)
  • 13 outbreaks involving 22 states
  • 503 of 704 (71%) were unvaccinated
  • 6 of 13 were close knit non-immunized communities
  • Unvaccinated people can acquire measles from travel to endemic areas with low vaccination rates
  • Outbreaks driven by vaccine misinformation

Anti-Vaccine movement:

  • 1998 Lancet case series of 12 patients reported enterocolitis linked to regressive autism triggered by MMR vaccine
  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners
  • Study commissioned and funded with plan for lawsuit against pharmaceutic companies
  • Data was manipulated and falsified to fit this narrative to support the lawsuit
  • Article was retracted and the principle author lost his license

Internet and Social Media Evidence:

  • Youtube videos about immunizations: 32% opposed vaccinations
    • Anti vaccination videos had higher ratings and more views than pro-vaccine videos
  • Google search study: Analyzed content of the first 100 sites found after typing in “vaccination” and “immunization” Into Google
    • 43% of the websites were anti-vaccination
  • Twitter study: 50% of tweets about vaccination contain anti-vaccine beliefs
  • Celebrities and elected public official use social media to spread misinformation about vaccines
    • Vulnerable people believe their status gives them access to information the average person might not have
  • Parents link autism and other diseases to “vaccine injury”
    • Share stories on anti-vaccine blogs and discussion boards to “warn” other parents
  • Stoke fear in parents that vaccines are dangerous without accurate info to refute claims
  • Article in Vaccine in 2008: 5-10 minutes on anti-vaccine site can increase perceptions of vaccine risks and decrease perceptions of risks of avoiding vaccines
    • perceptions persisted 5 months later
    • children of these parents receive less vaccines

Non-medical exemption (NME):

  • 18 states allow for non medical exemptions
  • High number of NMEs in some densely populated areas (Washington, texas)
  • Vaccine preventable diseases could originate and spread rapidly through these areas
  • A child with NME for MMR is 35x more likely to contract measles
  • NMEs weaken herd immunity

What are parents’ concerns?

  • Vaccine 2007
    • oversights
    • socioeconomic barriers: low income, multiple children
    • health care may be divided across providers
    • Religious or personal exemptions
    • Medical exemptions
  • Some Anti Vaccine beliefs
    • Children receive too many vaccines in total
    • Children receive too many vaccines at one time
    • Vaccines are unsafe
    • Vaccines have long term negative health effects
  • Vulnerable parents seek additional information
    • May use the Internet rather than ask their doctor
    • Searches led to both public health and anti-vaccination sites

Evidence Based Medicine:

  • Meta analysis Vaccine in 2014
    • more than 1.2 million patients
    • no evidence for association between autism, ASD and vaccination or any components such as thimersol or mercury
    • 6517 cases and 650,000 patients
    • Largest single study ever conducted
    • More than 5,000,000 person years of follow up
    • Repeat of similar study by same group which did not overlap with another >500,000 patients
    • No evidence of increased risk of autism after MMR vaccine
    • No evidence MMR triggers autism in susceptible subgroups
    • No evidence for clustering of of cases in specific time periods —> autism overnight
  • This Cochrane Review was published in April of 2020
    • Included 138 studies (23,480,668 participants)
    • Vaccines did not cause autism or any other suspected unwanted effect.
    • Small risks of febrile seizures and ITP

Counseling Patients on misinformation

  • Anti-vaccination movement has a better and more compelling story
  • Medical websites, statistics, vaccine fact sheet may not be enough
  • Stories can make information easily understandable for patients
  • Stories penetrate more deeply then just numbers and stats
    • Use clinical experience where we care for patients with these vaccine preventable diseases
    • Many doctors are parents face the same vaccine decisions
    • highlight the reasons we chose to vaccinate
  • Vaccine ambassadors: other parents who vaccinate
  • Pro-vaccine blogs for those who prefer this type of info
  • Presentation Zen: don’t leave the numbers hanging
  • Use numbers in a way parents can understand
  • For example Instead of percentages… maybe more effective to say one child in you kids class will be affected by this disease
  • RESONATE: “Greatest stories of all time are packaged and transferred so well that hundred of illiterate generations could repeat them”
  • Hero’s journey: “You are not the hero” in this story the parents are the hero
  • We are mentors along the way
  • How to win friends and influence people:
    • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
    • Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely
    • Give them a fine reputation to live up to
    • Be a good listener and encourage people to talk about themselves
    • Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires
    • Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”
    • Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.


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  21. Duarte, Nancy. Resonate. Hoboken, NJ. 2010

Post Peer Reviewed By: Salim R. Rezaie, MD (Twitter: @srrezaie)

Cite this article as: Anand Swaminathan, "REBEL Core Cast 43.0 – Measles + Antivax", REBEL EM blog, October 28, 2020. Available at:

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