Anti-vaxxers are modern-day flat-earthers who deny reality because it fits their world view


Most of the 89,780 people who died of measles globally last year were children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organisation.

“Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available,” the medical body states in its Measles fact sheet.

“Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. Before the introduction of measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.”

Why then would a sane, rational parent – who we must assume loves their child as all sane, rational parents do – willingly choose to ignore the advice of vaccination to potentially expose their children to a “highly contagious serious disease” that is ” one of the leading causes of death among young children”?

And because these few parents do it, they potentially exposure other children to this dread disease. The measles vaccine regime works because of what’s known as “herd immunity”. If everyone does it, no children have to die when a “safe and cost-effective vaccine is available”.

Anti-scientific drivel – that emboldens the so-called anti-vaxx movement – is all over the internet. Not on the pages of respected titles like Nature but no-name websites that are patently the purveyor of what we now regrettably know as “fake news”.

The unfortunate part is this long-discredited thesis once appeared in The Lancet journal in 1998 by the now disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield. He was struck from the UK’s medical registry after it was discovered his fraudulent paper linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was “utterly false” as The Lancet called it, retracting the paper saying it had been “deceived” by him. Wakefield is ” the Lance Armstrong of doctors,” as comedian John Oliver called him.

But the damage he has done is not insubstantial. Anti-vaxxers are modern-day flat-earthers who deny obvious reality because it fits their distorted world view.

This kind of fake news, on equally unheard-of and unreliable websites, is much more damaging than the other current preoccupation around the misinformation and interference in last year’s American election.

Decades of research, proper peer-review research, has failed to find any plausible link between vaccines and autism or autoimmune diseases. Nor another fallacious claim that vaccines contain mercury – it’s another chemical compound used as a preservative that isn’t dangerous and has mostly now been removed.

But the Somali community in Minnesota were hoodwinked into believing there was by anti-vaxxers who convinced them their high instance of autism was linked to vaccines and therefore to stop measles inoculations. The results is a measles outbreak that is the largest in that state in nearly 30 years.

In an eloquent essay called “Five Vaccine Myths Debunked” by Doctors Matthew E. Falagas and Georgia K. Vatheia, they state the blindly obvious reason that vaccines work: “It is frequently unappreciated by the public and scientists that herd immunity protects vulnerable population groups that cannot receive complete vaccination from potentially severe, life-threatening illnesses, by reducing the probability of transmission of infectious diseases from other members of the community”.

Simply put: you vaccinate your children not only to protect them but to protect all children. It’s one of the few times where such a herd mentality is good thing.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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