Measles Outbreak puts Children at Risk across South Wales

15th April 2013

Fraud, media frenzy and cuts to blame for epidemic spread

Measles is now epidemic in South-West Wales, with nearly 700 cases reported this year amid doctors' fears the outbreak could spread to Cardiff, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Vaccination rates across Britain and the United States have tumbled in recent years due to a combination of factors. Primarily, the pseudo-scientific, widely-debunked “antivax” movement, which encourages parents not to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps & rubella (MMR), continues to receive widespread media attention, despite 2011 revelations that studies linking the MMR vaccine with autism were fraud. Antivax has led to a fifteen-year neglect of MMR and many of those unvaccinated are now themselves the parents of small children, creating particular risk.

Antivax is, alongside homeopathy and chiropractic, one of several pseudo-scientific practices popular in Britain today. Andrew Wakefield, a now-struck off medical doctor, published claims in 1998 that the minute quantities of mercury in the MMR vaccine were responsible for autism and irritable bowel syndrome, whose causes remain unknown. Wakefield was later revealed to have faked his results and to have schemed to make money off the resulting health scare.

Exacerbating the problem, the tabloid press, particularly the Daily Mail, have shamelessly used antivax scaremongering to drive sales. The press ignored overwhelming scientific evidence showing absolutely no link between MMR and autism in order to take advantage of parents' insecurities. The spread of antivax panic around the world, driven by similar sensationalist media, has already caused the deaths of two vaccinated children in Germany and two in the United States during disease outbreaks.

Making matters worse, confidence in public health advice is undermined by state attacks on the NHS, political tampering in health advice by the monarchy, and all-too-cosy partnership between politicians and a profit-driven pharmaceutical industry. It is easy to have no confidence in health advice from a government which closes hospitals while cutting regulations that keep food pure, water clean and air breathable.

Public Health Wales, the agency responsible for promoting vaccination, have set a target of 95% of all children vaccinated against MMR, however Welsh government-imposed budget cuts have meant PHW's disease prevention and vaccination awareness programmes faced a 5% funding cut in 2012 PHW anticipate at least 20% cuts to all programmes over the next four years as Labour and the Tories risk the lives of children to pay for the austerity agenda, the banking bailout, and tax-dodging for the wealthy.

MMR is given in two parts, first at the age of one year and then at age 4 or 5. Outbreaks of measles, mumps and rubella have become hugely more common as the children of antivax parents enter school systems throughout the industrialised world. Failure to vaccinate puts at risk not only one's own children but also other children who may not have been vaccinated due to age or allergy or for whom the vaccine has been ineffective. Measles, which until the introduction of MMR in the 1960s was epidemic throughout the world, can cause life-long disabilities such as deafness or even kill.

Cutbacks cost lives. A socialist government would not only give the NHS enough money and resources to properly fill the health needs of people in Britain, but would ensure doctors, nurses and public health workers had control over an evidence-based public health policy. All of Britain's workers, whether native-born or immigrant, would receive equal protection under the law and full access to health care. And a world-wide, robust, coordinated public health policy would guarantee measles, mumps and rubella, once the scourge of generations, would face the fate of smallpox: confinement to a laboratory as a scientific curiosity.

Ed Schluessel, Swansea
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