Tag Archives: MMR

All the warning about the MMR vaccination turn into reality

5 Apr

A few years ago I used to regularly use the great UK MMR vaccination fiasco and the discredited work of  ‘Dr’ Andrew Wakefield as an example in my rational thinking classes. If you are interested in the whole MMR issue Ben Goldacre (as ever) has a very accessible summary. Over the last couple of years I’ve dropped it as a topic, as I rather naively assumed that with Wakefield work being so publicly discredited it was a piece of ‘history’ and not necessarily something that would engage students.

In recent months we’ve seen a very strange case of an Italian Court deciding that all the science is wrong, and now in the UK we have a major measles outbreak.


In the South Wales city of Swansea 588 measles cases have now been reported. This seems like both the ‘perfect’ ending for a new lecture on the MMR fiasco, and also a very good way to get students to think about complex ideas about what happens when ‘herd immunity’ drops. South Wales appears to be something of a blackspot for immunisation, with 1 in 6 children not vaccinated.


This graphic from America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases is a nice introduction to the idea of ‘herd immunity’. I’ve also found this website which has a series of online simulations of various disease scenarios (including the ‘Swansea’ situation with a blackspot of low immunisation).


All things considered, the MMR lecture will definitely be making a comeback in October with an ‘all new’ section on herd immunity. As a postscript to this blog I’ve just searched for ‘Swansea measles’ on the Daily Mail website. The top three responses (see image below) are illuminating !


In ten years we seem to have ‘progressed’ from 75% of the public wanting an inquiry to ‘measles can kill’. If only we’d had more rational thinking in 2002 !!!

The return of the MMR lecture

23 Jul

For a number of years I used to give a lecture on the MMR vaccine debacle, that illustrated many of the points I wanted students to understand about rational thinking. Following the General Medical Council’s determination of serious professional misconduct against the doctors involved in the original article it seems like the story had run it’s course and so I decided to retire the lecture.

However, with a recent article it looks like the Daily Mail may be trying to kick start the issue. Sue Reid’s article, headlined “MMR: A mother’s victory. The vast majority of doctors say there is no link between the triple jab and autism, but could an Italian court case reignite this controversial debate?” details a recent Italian court verdict linking MMR and autism. I won’t rehash the whole sorry saga here, but you can find an excellent summary of the evidence here. The best that I can say is that any ‘rational’ reading of the evidence  suggests that the Italian court may not have seen all the research when they made their decision !

What I find particularly interesting about this case is that it cuts across many disciplines, and so could be widely used as an example. For ‘science’ disciplines one can discuss the ethics of the original research, the value of peer review, the difference between correlation and causation and a range of other topics. But for disciplines as diverse as Media studies,Political Science and Health Promotion could gain from discuss of the MMR fiasco. Media students might consider how a ‘controversy’ can be maintained in the absence of evidence, and politics students might think about how media coverage of the story peaked with the birth of the then PM Tony Blair’s last child was due to be vaccinated, rather than when the original paper was published. Health studies students might want to think about the impact of such stories on vaccination rates, and how such stories might be combatted.

I shall be spending some time over the summer digging out my old lecture slides and updating them. It seems like this particular lecture isn’t quiet dead yet !

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