MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

In Europe, we have chiropractors, homeopaths, naturopaths and anthroposophical physicians who recommend to their patients not to vaccinate their children. In the US, they have all this plus some of the clergy to jeopardize herd immunity.

An outbreak of measles infections has been reported in Tarrant County, Texas, US where at least 21 people have been affected this month at the Eagle Mountain International Church. The ministers of this church have been critical of vaccination and advised to use alternative treatments. Several more cases of infections with fever and rash have been noted, but so far remain unconfirmed.

Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, between 3 million and 4 million people in the U.S. were infected each year, 48,000 of them needed hospitalisation and 400 to 500 died. Another 1,000 developed chronic disabilities. In the US measles were considered eradicated in 2000, but outbreaks continue because of imported infections brought back by travellers from areas where measles remains common.

The Texas outbreak was caused by a non-vaccinated visitor who had been infected in Indonesia and then returned to expose unvaccinated church members, staff and children in a day-care centre. In the wider community, more than 98 per cent of kids are immunized and less than 1 per cent are exempt. But the congregation of unvaccinated people allowed the disease to catch hold. Church leaders, including Kenneth Copeland and his daughter, Terri Pearsons, senior pastor at Eagle Mountain, have advocated faith-healing and questioned vaccines in the past.

And what can faith-healing achieve? Where is the evidence that it prevents or cures infections or any other diseases? You probably guessed: there is none.

15 Responses to Faith-healing as an alternative to vaccination?

  • George says:

    Dr. Ernst, someone must be really pathologically religious to believe that “faith healing” can protect you or save you from diseases.

    However, the use of vaccines and their safety are not always justified scientifically. There is a controversy about the Hep B vaccine and despite good studies showing probable adverse effects the authorities require in the US that the kindergarten and middle school children to be vaccinated otherwise cannot attend school. Is this really justified?

    I dont object vaccination in general but regarding the measles case and data – different anti vaccine groups point out the usual objection – that measles was already declining before the introduction of the vaccine.

    They say for instance that : “it looks like a huge decline after the vaccine was introduced” but this is a trick ( probably due to the logarithmic construction of the vertical axis)

    What they say it sounds reasonable— if we accept the validity of the source. I m trying to decide myself—

    What do you think?

    • Guy Chapman says:

      Before we get into detail, I have a simple rule you can use to establish whether a claim about vaccinations that you find on an anti-vax site is true.

      1. It’s on an anti-vax site
      2. It’s about vaccines

      Anything meeting both those criteria, is bullshit. If you want a single quick test for any claim (vaccine or otherwise) then check whale.to. If it’s on whale, it is nonsense, to a very high degree of probability.

      On now to the claim that measles was declining pre vaccination. This is what is known as a PRATT – a point refuted a thousand times. We can assess this a couple of ways: we can look and see if the direct claim is true, and we can look and see if the implicit underlying claim (that vaccination does not prevent measles) is true.

      The former is well debunked here: http://www.iayork.com/MysteryRays/2009/09/02/measles-deaths-pre-vaccine/ – it relies on cherry-picking a particular statistic, the mortality rate. Cases of measles did not significantly reduce, deaths did, due to a combination of factors such as better nutrition and the advent of antibiotics.

      The latter is much simpler, because we have direct evidence of what happened when vaccination rates declined: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/579800 is only one of many.

      So: the measles vaccine does prevent measles, which is a serious and highly infectious disease, the epidemiological data robustly supports a causal link between rising vaccine rates and reducing numbers of reported cases, and between reducing rates and rising diagnoses.

    • Vicky says:

      One of the antivaxxers’ favourite tricks is to discuss the measles death rates instead of the infection rates. Yes, mortality rates improved even before it was possible to prevent infection (intensive care improved and continues to improve), but death isn’t the only possible negative effect measles can have. It’s both cheaper and less painful to have those two shots than going through a measles infection.

  • jdc325 says:

    George, you also forgot to link to those “good studies showing probable adverse effects” of the Hep B vaccine. Not to mention the analysis that shows that the risks of these adverse effects outweigh the benefits of the vaccine.

    With regard to measles, you say that measles “was already declining before the introduction of the vaccine”. While mortality had declined prior to the introduction of the vaccine (which could be due to improvements in, for example, medical treatment for complications like pneumonia – this paper refers to “young age at infection, crowding, underlying immune deficiency disorders, vitamin A deficiency, and lack of access to medical care” as factors in the high mortality rate in developing countries), incidence had not and despite the reduction in mortality rates quite a few people were still dying of measles. In spite of any improvements prior to vaccination, there was no reduction in incidence and around a hundred people a year in England and Wales were still dying of the disease (you can find the figures on the HPA website; oh, and the link you provide states that 450 people a year were dying of measles in the US before they introduced the vaccine). Now maybe it’s just me but I think that preventing nearly a hundred deaths a year in England and hundreds in the US with a safe, effective vaccine is worthwhile. Not to mention the various complications of measles more common than death from the disease – some of which can be very serious indeed. Or, indeed, the deaths from measles in countries that have a higher case-fatality rate than the US or England.

  • george says:

    Reading the links above – I m not sure that the anti vaccine group article has been debunked.

    It is evident that the number of deaths from measles was dramatically decreased BEFORE the MMR vaccine was introduced. Not the number of cases which is quite different.

    So the vaccine did not really played a dramatic role in mortality rate as it is presented by the companies they are making it.

    But this is a good objection : to prevent 400 deaths a year makes the vaccine worthwhile.

    The counter argument is that we don’t really know that the deaths are not happening because of the vaccine or because of the living conditions. Also is does not take into account the side effects including sudden deaths ( which are not officially counted as MMR caused side effects) and – the long term adverse effects which have not been studied.

    Regarding the Hep B vaccine this is one paper which studied the long term effects of the vaccine. http://www.neurology.org/content/72/10/873.abstract

    Is Hb a real problem in kindergarden ?

    • Mojo says:

      It is evident that the number of deaths from measles was dramatically decreased BEFORE the MMR vaccine was introduced. Not the number of cases which is quite different.

      So the vaccine did not really played a dramatic role in mortality rate as it is presented by the companies they are making it.

      Well done. After three other people have pointed out to you that using mortality figures rather than the number of cases to follow the decline in measles is an error, and after yourself conceding that they are “quite different”, you are continuing to concentrate on mortality figures and ignoring the decline in the number of cases since the introduction of measles vaccines.

  • WolfgangM says:

    Not only in the US- a large measles outbreak is ongoing in tne Netherlands in a religious community who do not vaccinate

    http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20580

    Over 1200 cases until now.

    in 2000 the same community had a measles outbreak with about 3.000 cases and 3 fatalities, in 2005 the same community had a rubella outbreak among pregnant woman, many children were born with severe handicaps including severe mental retardation.

    Children have a right to get vaccinated – according to the childrens rights convention.
    According to the textbook of Paediatrics 2nd ed from T.Lissauer (Mosby 2001) p79 child neglect is a form of child abuse and can present as poor attendance for immunisations

    • george says:

      So do you think that Hb is a problem in the kindergarden and all children should be vaccinated despite the concerns about the vaccine?
      http://www.neurology.org/content/72/10/873.abstract

      ” children were born with severe handicaps including severe mental retardation.” sounds a little strange but I dont have any data to see myself.

      The point here is that the use of a vaccine is justified by the mortality rate or serious side effects and not by the number of cases. Otherwise we could have vaccines for every disease which the human organism is susceptible. Is this wise?

      There was a huge decline (of deaths) BEFORE the vaccine was introduced – people are told that low mortality rate was due to vaccination which is false. At least one should see that and start thinking about it.

      I don’t think that anyone doubts that the vaccine is effective but anti vaccine groups are pointing out that there NO serious LONG TERM studies on the side effects of vaccines in general. And mainly the possible side effects from vaccination might be more serious than the disease itself. Furthermore there are not studies about the combinations of all different vaccines.

  • Björn Geir says:

    George! When reading articles in scientific publications it can be very enlightening and also save you a lot of embarrassment if you also read the following discussion in the same paper. This often helps in understanding the results and sometimes even exposes mistakes and errors. Sometimes it even reveals how the conclusions were totally wrong.
    Had you read this: http://www.neurology.org/content/72/10/873.abstract/reply#neurology_el_38055
    it might have saved you from once again reminding us of Abraham Lincoln’s deep wisdom when he pointed out that for some people it was: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”.

    If you still don’t get it:
    The research to which you have repeatedly linked can NOT be interpreted to show ANY relationship between Hb vaccination and later demyelinating disease. It is only a sad example of methodological error where the researchers repeated an analysis until they found one positive finding, which will happen by chance just like you will sooner or later get a six if you roll a die often enough.

    • George says:

      Frankly , I did not expect that an expert in statistics and medicine research to watch this page…

      Can you please be specific :Which part of the study has errors in calculations ( math ) and selection criteria and why? In your own words, please. (Please explain the errors in math.)

      Lets see who the is fool here according to Lincoln..

      • Björn Geir says:

        Is the link that I gave not working? It works fine for me. The material on the discussion page that the link goes to is not very difficult to read and should be easy to understand for those with basic knowledge of epidemiology and statistics.

        Try at least to read Michel lievre’s response.

        A small excerpt that says all there is to say about the problem with methodology:

        A very large number of analyses were undertaken. A total of 50 results appear in the article, and the list of “sensitivity” analyses suggests that many more were done. The probability of detecting several significant associations through pure chance was therefore very high.

        and his conclusion:

        In conclusion, the benefit/risk balance of vaccination with any vaccine against HB in children should not be called into question on the basis of sub-group results in this study.

        If you still do not understand the problem, most universities offer good courses in epidemiology and basic research methodology.

        • George says:

          Sure you could …..educate me in math and in medial research but….

          I did not ask you to copy what other people say about the study but to explain WHY the selection criteria were wrong and to detect errors in calculations since you appeared to be so knowledgable in statistics and medical research ….I thought you could do it yourself….

          Anyhow …

          Saying that this could be due to chance is a a very weak argument – every finding in every meta analysis could be due to chance – what is important is the selection criteria.

          That,s why the opinions you copy from other people are not at the level of a peer review study but at the level of a personal comment which is not supported by any analysis of the paper.

          This is a study which is widely ucited and even if other researches might hold different views – they recognize its statistical power and its quality in analytical approach.

          One must be really ignorant to dismiss it completely – even the authors who criticize it they know the limitations of their own criticism …

  • Mojo says:

    “Saying that this could be due to chance is a a very weak argument…”

    Sorry, George, but if a study has measured lots of different things and one of them has produced a significant result, then saying that it could be due to chance is not a weak argument. The test for statistical significance is that there is a 5% or less chance that the result is down to chance. If you measure 1 thing, then just by sheer chance you will get a significant false positive result once in every 20 times you run the experiment. The more things you measure, the more likely you are to get a false positive. If you measure 20 things, then as often as not you are going to get a significant false positive from one of them. According to the comment that Björn quoted, “A total of 50 results appear in the article”.

    To put it another way, see here. Do you think, on the basis of those results, that it is likely that green jelly beans cause acne?

    • George says:

      No – They did not. More were examined and 50 were selected to —”appear” ——it does not mean that they used only 50 cases in the entire study. This is common practice in every meta analyses to select fewer cases for analysis after you have studied much more – what it is important is the selection criteria.

      If you cannot yourself evaluate the statistical methods used , look at the significance of the study even among the people who hold a different view and you will see that no one doubts about its statistical power.

      It does NOT mean that it is absolutely correct but it casts serious doubts on the safety of the vaccine…

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