West Cork Measles Outbreak — Evidence of Alt-Med Nonsense Causing Real Harm

The national rate for measles vaccination is 92% of the population, but in West Cork only 86%, and it’s no coincidence that West Cork is where a serious outbreak of measles has occurred, with 50 kids infected.  Most of them are secondary students at Schull Community College, although a few younger children have also been infected.

Now, what’s the connecting factor between West Cork and low vaccination rates?

Simple .  West Cork has tons of  decent, honest, kaftan-weaving alternative folk, the traditional target for alt-med chancers and homeopathic bullshit artists of every hue.  If you did a survey of Tarot decks per square kilometre, West Cork would feature way up there at the top of the list, and if you did a survey of alternative medicine fraudsters, it might well be the outright winner.

Got cancer?  Here, have a dreamcatcher.

Dying of AIDS?  Never fear.  The answer is Reiki.

Going blind?  Foot massage might help.

Motor neurone disease?  Bad heart?  Why not swallow some toxic heavy metals —  lead, mercury or arsenic —  thanks to the ancient practice of Ayurveda.

High blood pressure? The answer is obvious.  Get your spine manipulated.  That’ll sort it.

For everything else, try homeopathy, whose remedies consist of a special water that remembers what it’s supposed to cure after being magically banged against a leather cushion.

You might want to try some of these homeopathic remedies.  Brick dust.  Canary feathers.  Haddock.  Fabric conditioner.  l’Oreal hair perm.  Sausages.  And countless others from Ainsworths, suppliers of homeopathic remedies to HM Queen Elizabeth.

My favourite is Trace Minerals.  What’s yours?

It’s all nonsense.  Like priests’ theology, it’s just shit they made up to make money or gain power.

You see, there’s only one way to prove that cures work, and that’s to do tests, but you can’t just decide to invent ways of doing tests.  For one thing, they have to be independent of the person making the claim for his cure.    The test results have to be repeatable.  It’s not good enough to say that you had a headache but after taking Tincture of Berlin Wall your headache went away.  That’s evidence of nothing.  I once ate an ice cream and was narrowly missed by a bus, but I don’t claim that ice-cream saved me from bus-destruction.  On the other hand, if I could eat a hundred ice-creams, and each time somehow manage to deflect a hurtling vehicle, we’d be talking about real evidence.

Alt-med doesn’t operate in that zone of logic.

Instead, alt-med, which is a multi-billion-euro industry itself, feeds on people’s insecurities and their need for a little magic in their lives.  I’m no fan of what they call Big Pharma, but if a family member is sick, I want to know they’re getting a treatment that has been tested and validated, independently and repeatedly, because after all, that’s what science boils down to: clear thinking.

Anything else is either religion or deliberate deception, such as that of Andrew Wakefield who, in 1998, published a fraudulent article in The Lancet making a connection between MMR and autism.  To complete his academic paper, Wakefield subjected autistic children to appalling abuse including unnecessary lumbar punctures and colonoscopies.  He scared many parents into withholding the vaccine from their children, but what Wakefield failed to reveal at the time was that he had a vested interest in discrediting MMR because he had filed a secret patent application for a different measles vaccination.

Wakefield’s crime was two-fold.  He not only discredited conventional medical treatment in many people’s eyes, but he  also provided a boost to equally-fraudulent, or at best, misguided, ignorant, uninformed pseudo-medicine.

What are we seeing now in West Cork?  Vaccination uptake rates that are too low, leading to an outbreak of the disease in the very age group whose parents would have been scared by Wakefield’s fraudulent claims.  Combine that with a naive belief in the likes of reflexology as a cure for anything apart from tenseness, and you’re looking at a recipe for trouble.

And yet, all this is small-scale stuff compared to the calculated cynicism of the Burzynski Clinic, a huge con operation that gives people false hope while simultaneously sucking every last penny out of their bank accounts.


43 thoughts on “West Cork Measles Outbreak — Evidence of Alt-Med Nonsense Causing Real Harm

  1. Great. I think the alt-med should try to develop some further cures, for example using amputation. Is that a sniffle I hear? Cut of the nose. Sore big toe? Chop, and it’s gone. Sore throat? Ok, that was the end of that. Very efficient.

  2. Seeing as how we’re talking about clear thinking, how is the fact that 86% of the population of West Cork have had measles vaccination correlated to the fact that there are some practitioners of alternative medicine there?

    I don’t get it.

  3. During the great depression of 2010 I was forced to seek help from an Alt-Med specialist in the back streets of Galway. Aye, Tony the security guard at the big hotel that overlooks the running track at the waters edge, he said he coud help the tiredness around my upper lids if I only drank the contents of the offered Dulux paint tin which smelled a bit like the tayto wine itself. Blind I was, fucking blind for the best part of three weeks. No more tiredness around the eyes, no fucking eyelids left after the foul liquid burnt the eyes right off of me.

    You can take it from me, all Alt-Meds should be shoved up your mans hole.

  4. Mao in china promoted this as he knew it was not possible to build a big enough health care system, glad to see these chinese shops selling these products going belly up here.

  5. FF1 — That’s not quite what I said.

    The fact that the vaccination rate in West Cork is significantly lower must be caused by something and I think it’s due to the higher prevalence of people with what you might call a New Age outlook, who might have a preference for untested alternative treatments and a suspicion of established, proven methods.

    Given the availability of a ready market, there are bound to be more alt-med chancers in the area, but I’m not saying their physical presence reduced the vaccination rate. That would not be logical.

  6. Hi FF1, as someone living in West Cork the perception here, generally, is that many who moved to the area arrived with the alt-med philosophies already in mind.

    It’s probably a combination of things: influence from those who have setup practices in the area, coupled with a percentage of the population who already were on that path.

    Having said that, i’m not judging it. The MMR scare confused many people, regardless of their beliefs, and i don’t think it’s a good premise for questioning alternative medicine as a whole.

  7. Bock, I agree with you that the relatively lower vaccination rate in West Cork was caused by something – that’d be 14% not getting the MMR vaccination.

    However you said, the connecting factor was this –
    (I have to quote you, sorry, as I’m probably not going to get it exactly right)

    “Now, what’s the connecting factor between West Cork and low vaccination rates?
    Simple . West Cork has tons of decent, honest, kaftan-weaving alternative folk, the traditional target for alt-med chancers and homeopathic bullshit artists of every hue”

    It’s not simple. There’s no connecting factor other than your opinion.
    I’ve no problem with you criticising alternative medicine by the way.. I just think you are making connections that aren’t there.
    And especially as you advocate clear thinking and quantifiable evidence in the post, it seems a bit contradictory.

  8. “The MMR scare confused many people, regardless of their beliefs, and i don’t think it’s a good premise for questioning alternative medicine as a whole”

    I agree Mick.
    I’m not sure it’s connected to any alternative medicine practises.

    Reading this –
    It states: “The HPSC has also warned that other areas of the country seen to be at high risk of measles include Galway, Dublin south east, Dublin north west and Meath. All of these areas have similarly low uptakes of MMR at 24 months as those seen in West Cork”

    Have we lots of alternative folk in Meath too?

  9. “Whose opinion would you like me to give”

    Your own of course Bock.

    However the title of this post is – ‘west-cork-measles-outbreak-evidence-of-alt-med-nonsense-causing-real-harm’.

    What evidence?
    What connection?

    I’m sorry, I’m not buying it.

  10. Every time I write a post like this we have the same conversation, and each time, one way or another, I have to point out that evidence and proof are not the same thing. Evidence is there to be weighed, and if you don’t find it compelling, that’s entirely your prerogative. I don’t know what the underlying cause in Meath is, and it isn’t relevant since this is about West Cork. However, I can see a similar argument applying to Galway.

  11. Bock did you apply Bayes’ Theorem to calculate the weight of evidence?

  12. I’m not saying proof or evidence are the same.
    However I don’t believe there’s either in this case that indicate that the relatively lower percentage of people vaccinated against measles in West Cork is connected in any way to alternative medicine practises.

    What’s the evidence for this?

    It’s illogical and presumptuous to make any connection between the two in my opinion.

    Regarding evidence, you state in the post Bock – “On the other hand, if I could eat a hundred ice-creams, and each time somehow manage to deflect a hurtling vehicle, we’d be talking about real evidence”

    What real evidence are we talking about here that shows that alternative medicine is to blame for the slightly lower MMR vaccination in West Cork?

    I’m just asking what the evidence is, as per the title of the post?
    You show that evidence should be repeatable and quantifiable, with the ice-cream analogy.. are the same standards not applicable to the claim this post makes?

  13. Toungue firmly in cheek here,but if you were to eat 100 ice-creams and each time manage to deflect a hurtling vehicle, it would prove nothing, unless you were to also *not* eat 100 ice-creams and each time *fail* to deflect a hurtling vehicle.

    I’d say that in that case, your saw-damaged finger would probably be the least of your worries :)

    You would also need to get someone else to eat the same ice-cream 100 times, and see if they too could deflect a hurtling vehicle, someone to not eat the ice cream and try to deflect the vehicle, someone to not eat the icecream and not try to deflect the vehicle, someone else to stand around and do nothing and finally some poor bastard to do nothing but stand there and get creamed by hurtling vehicles 100 times….even then, you still would not be able to prove if it was you, the ice-cream,the buses or just whatever asshole scientist thought this experiment up.

    Sounds like a monty python scketch….but being serious, I agree that you are correct to call it evidence…it’s circumstantial, true, but it is technically evidence. I’d be inclined to say myself though that it’s perhaps more likely that since there are no major population centres in WC, people would be putting things on the long finger and/or assuming that measles would not happen to them. Just a theory though.

  14. I actually think it would be a useful research project to investigate the relationship between vaccination levels and crustiness. I wonder if anyone would pay me a huge grant to live in West Cork for six months investigating this phenomenon.

  15. ” I agree that you are correct to call it evidence…it’s circumstantial, true, but it is technically evidence”.. I don’t get how it’s evidence?

    Seriously, can someone explain to me how there’s any evidence of a lower rate of MMR vaccination being connected to a higher number of alternative medicine adherents in West Cork? (presuming for argument’s sake that there are a higher number of aherents to Alt med down there)

    I’d be slightly annoyed if for whatever reason I overlooked ensuring my child received both MMR vaccinations and they’re now very sick with the measles, to be told it’s due to the fact that I’m a “kaftan-weaving alternative folk” person.

    I’ll ask again, what is the evidence?

  16. If you neglected to vaccinate your child, I could think of worse things to call you than kaftan-weaving alternative folk

  17. I seriously doubt that any parent neglects to vaccinate their children, thats a fairly big leap to a totally unsubstantiated conclusion.
    I am aware that some parents choose not to vaccinate their children, on what scientific and medical evidence they make such a choice, i don’t know but i doubt neglect has a part in their choice.

    Its a tricky one, because the vast majority of parents probably make that choice in the best interest of their child and the information and misinformation can be very confusing and frightening.

    With regards the MMR and all the misinformation that ensued, very little promotion of the booster at 4/5 yrs of age is in the public domain.

    Information post vaccination campaigns can be very disturbing, such as the follow up to the vaccinations for Swine flu, some of the vaccines proved problematic 12 months after the initial campaign.

    Regardless of our personal opinions and even what appears to be logical, moral and responsible, parents have to have the right to choose the best course of action for their children, we can only hope it is the right choice but we cannot introduce some kind of ” Vaccination Policing ” strategy for parents.

  18. Parents don’t have the right to choose the best course of action for their children if it creates a worse outcome.

    A few years back, some Jehovah Witness parents tried to prevent life-saving blood transfusions for their child on religious grounds and an Irish court decided that the children should receive the treatment even though the parents didn’t want it.

    Now that we have seen an outbreak of a potentially fatal illness among unvaccinated children, perhaps a similar decision is required.

  19. “I seriously doubt that any parent neglects to vaccinate their children, thats a fairly big leap to a totally unsubstantiated conclusion”

    That’s the glaring unsubstantiated conclusion in this post all right..
    You put Bock straight there Norma! Well said.

  20. I think myself that once folk become parents they should not be allowed wear kaftans.. as to do so would be detrimental to their childrens’ health.

  21. FF1 — Neglecting to vaccinate a child means they become infected as happened in Cork. Did you decide not to vaccinate your children?

  22. Neglecting to vaccinated a child doesn’t mean they become infected Bock.
    They may.. it’s not a definite though.

    I don’t have kids.. but if I ever did.. I will ensure to never wear a kaftan!

  23. Neglecting to vaccinate a child doesn’t mean they become infected Bock.
    They may.. it’s not a definite though.

    I don’t have kids.. but if I ever did.. I will ensure to never wear a kaftan!

  24. I don’t know the reasons why there are some children whose parents have not taken them to be vaccinated.. however I don’t agree that there’s an iota of evidence that they are proponents of alternative medicine… that’s all.

    Regarding your real world choices Bock, I’ve a lot of respect for parents.. especially ones that do an ok job at it, it’s not easy. They’re bombarded with information as to what’s best for their child.

    However I still don’t agree with the claims made in this post.

  25. The points being made here regarding ” Kaftan ” wearing people and ” Crustiness ” in general is not only an unsubstantiated conclusion and / or opinion, its bordering on a very parochial viewpoint.

    Wakefield published his article in 1998, with the very misleading link between Autism and the MMR vaccine, however in Ireland in ’89 and ’93 there were Measle outbreaks of 1,248 and 4,328 respectivly, spread across the Country. There was another outbreak in 2000 which could have been attributed to a low uptake of the vaccine due to fear spreading from Wakefields article.

    Its not clear in this post or in other reports regarding this outbreak as to the details of the people infected with Measles, for example anyone with a compromised immune system or on a course of steroid treatment could have a compromised response to the vaccine and therefore would not have the same immunity as a person not subject to those conditions.

    There are several reasons as to why this outbreak has occured and if we are sticking to reasonable and scientific means of fact gathering then the ” Kaftan wearing ” supposition is only that ,a supposition.

  26. I’ve put forward my view as to why the West Cork vaccination rate is so low, but I might be wrong. Another explanation for the phenomenon would be welcome.

  27. It’s only 6% lower Bock.. doesn’t seem like that much to me.

    I found this –

    VENICE: Vaccine European New Integration Collaboration Effort.

    Page 6 –
    “Although measles can be avoided through simple and unexpensive vaccines, children in affluent countries continue to have a substantial risk of infection… ”

    Page 7 –
    “The questionnaire specifically looked at the determinants on vaccination on coverage across and within countries, regions and populations sub groups”

    Alternative medicine is mentioned in the report – page 16.

    There are a multitude of reasons it seems..

  28. Are there a lot of travellers down in West Cork maybe? Mick? :)
    I mean not of the settled community..

    Mentioned in that riveting report..

  29. I missed Vincent Browne due to this! feck it.
    And he got a lovely new hair cut recently too..

  30. Good link FFI and surely Vin will forgive you ?

    Estimates of full vaccine, as in 2 doses, the 2nd MMR being within the School programme at age 4/5 has a very low uptake at 75%, an uptake of 95% is required to prevent outbreaks.

    Other areas of high risk and low uptake incl Galway/Dublin Southeast / Dublin Northwest and Meath.

    From what i can gather there was a very high incidence of zero vaccination in the people infected in W.Cork but for those who were vaccinated, only 1 person had recieved the full vaccination, as in 2 doses.

    Its a serious situation and i think the connection made here between the choices made by parents, whatever they wear or whatever belief system they subscribe to is just distracting from the reality.
    However, in spite of the huge advances made in the process of Vaccines, there remains a persistent outbreak of Measles, France, Romania and Ireland being top of the list.

  31. Yeah Norma..

    When did vaccinations become widespread for measles I wonder? Not that long ago, I’d imagine.

    I mean what did they do back in the day? Bock? :)
    You’d just have to suffer through it I guess.

    Was measles one of the diseases that killed off the Native Americans?
    It usually doesn’t kill Europeans though.. interesting.

  32. As you know, I’m not a doctor or a epidemiologist. but as I understand it, diseases need a particular level of vaccination or inoculation to make sure they’re eradicated. That’s how TB was eliminated.

  33. There was an outbreak of TB in a primary school in Cork in 2010, and some cases across Kerry.

  34. There are vaccinations and vaccinations. We vaccinated all our kids with the routine stuff, MMR etc, but when the swine flu hysteria and the associated vaccine program was in full flow a couple of years ago, we passed on it, on the basis that we hadn’t heard of anyone we knew, or even anyone they knew, getting the flu, and there was a bit of doubt over how well the vaccine had been tested (our GP was one of the doubtful). We decided the game wasn’t worth the candle, and that there would be plenty of time to get it done if we started hearing of more people getting the flu. Lo and behold, about 5 people in the country got the flu, but it seems many kids who got the vaccine have contracted narcolepsy.

  35. Essodee. Just a bit more on the ” Swine flu ” vaccine, i’m open to correction but for personal reasons i looked into it fairly thoroughly at the time.

    There were 2 vaccines on the market, 1 vaccine which was either without any mercury or at least very minimal traces, was very expensive and had a 24 hr shelf life after opening, that vaccine was restricted to people with immune compromised conditions.
    The 2nd vaccine had a much higher mercury content was much cheaper to produce and had a much longer shelf life and that was the one which caused the problem of Narcolepsy.

    I for one am a bit obsessive about looking into what i might choose to put in my body or my kids bodies but its a fine line between being responsible and being neurotic.

  36. Alternative medicine may be full of quackery but your faith in mainstream medicine is misguided. It may surprise you to learn that most clinical trials of “new” (few are truly new) medicines, from proton pump inhibitors to antidepressants are carried out by those famously independent pharmaceutical companies, often conveniently outsourced to developing countries, and ghostwritten for medical journals. These companies then sequester negative data and after performing dozens of trials, only release those that demonstrate “statistical significance” which means in the case of Prozac, for example, that perhaps 1 out of 10 “improved.” Read world-renowned psychiatrist and pharmacologist Professor David Healy’s recent book, Pharmageddon, if you would like to know what “evidence-based medicine” really means and how it differs from data-based medicine.

  37. You have me the wrong way round. I hold no brief for industries — neither those that push chemicals nor those that peddle water and sugar.

    Here’s the point: even if every last conventional medicine was fake, homeopathy would still be nonsense.

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