Measles is making a comeback in Ireland thanks to far-right lies and fearmongering

A picture of a Ukrainian girl getting a measles vaccination from a UNICEF clinic in Ukraine.
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Measles is on the rise in Ireland according to a new report from UNICEF. It said that cases of the disease increased by 244% from 2017 to 2018. The 25 April report found that, worldwide, roughly “169 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017”. And it also said that “fear or skepticism” about vaccines is partly to blame.

Measles has returned

Dr Lucy Jessop of Ireland’s National Immunisation Office had earlier said the uptake rate of the measles vaccine in Ireland stands at 92%. But she said that needs to increase to 95% “to make sure that measles does not circulate here”. It has been reported elsewhere that, in parts of Ireland:

targets for immunisation were over 20% below what they were supposed to be, with serious problems identified in West Cork, Wicklow, and parts of Dublin.

UNICEF itself noted that there were 25 cases of measles in Ireland in 2017; but in 2018 it rose to 86. And the Journal has reported that there have already been 48 cases reported this year. UNICEF insists that:

Widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreaks hitting several countries around the world today.


UNICEF also discussed possible reasons for the return of measles. Among other things, it said the cause is ”complacency, and in some cases fear or skepticism about vaccines”.

Although not named by UNICEF, disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield is notorious for creating fear about vaccines. In a paper published by the Lancet in 1998, he and his co-authors claimed that the three-in-one vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) caused autism. As a result, vaccination rates fell.

Read on...

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The General Medical Council later struck him off the medical register. And the Lancet retracted his original research paper because, in part, of “undisclosed financial interests”.

Fighting for vaccinations

Irish pro-vaccine and autism rights activist Fiona O’Leary spoke to The Canary about the issue. She lives in one of the areas of Ireland described as having “serious problems” with vaccine uptake. After saying that she “lost a cousin to meningitis”, she explained:

Why I do this is really because I care about children. I care about the groups in our society that are not able to get vaccinated.

She also pointed out that:

When we vaccinate, we protect those vulnerable people. It’s not just about yourself.

And she thinks part of the problem is that anti-vaxxers (people who oppose vaccinations) “believe they’re doing the right thing, because they are brainwashed”.

Increased stakes

But this is just part of it. O’Leary has had a lot of experience with anti-vaxxers. And she says that many of them now believe that “vaccines cause cancer” so big drug companies can make money.

O’Leary, who’s autistic, further argued that the anti-vaccine movement is taking advantage of autistic people for its own ends. What’s more, she observed that some of them think “the government is trying to create autistic people so they can control them like robots”.

She also insists that a “definite link” exists between the far right and the anti-vaccine movement. She said they describe vaccinations as a “genocide programme”. For her activism, she has received threats from these people.

One prominent Irish far-right anti-vaxxer has said O’Leary “needs to be taken under control and dealt with and once and for all”. O’Leary has also received threats over the phone and YouTube.

In summary, she calls the movement against vaccination “health terrorism”.

Taking the necessary steps

To help tackle the rise of anti-vaccination lies, Facebook has previously announced that it would stop “vaccine misinformation”. But maybe people and governments need to take strong steps too. One possible solution is the introduction of mandatory vaccinations. The Irish health minister is currently looking into this.

And considering the risks of allowing the anti-vaxxers to spread their lies unchallenged, this is a potential solution that every country should look into. Because the consequences are too high not to.

Featured image via Flickr – UN Ukraine

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  • Show Comments
    1. I really would urge you to take a step back her and think about what might be going on.

      Reading much of the current literature on vaccination I am reminded of your own observation around the gap between mainstream media reporting on Venezuela and what you yourselves have observed on the ground.

      I come of the generation well before measles vaccinations existed – I shall restrict what I have to say here to measles, since it’s what I know about. I had measles; so did my three siblings; so did every child I knew. Measles was regarded simply as one of those rites of passage which most children went through. It was a minor infection, something to get through, and then know that there was no possibility of getting it again. I have no personal experience of any child who either died or had serious complications. My one memory of it was that it was rather boring, since the curtains were kept closed, and I couldn’t read. Damaging eyesight seemed to be the one thing that was risky.

      My mother did indeed have measles later in life – caught from my second brother. She was certainly very ill, but no-one seems to have considered that there was any real risk of her dying.

      It is puzzling to me therefore to see measles described routinely today as a killer disease.

      I do note, however, that there are certain anomalies in the way that current cases of measles are reported. There were, I believe, 1,000 cases of measles reported in the UK in 2018. Reports then go on to report deaths worldwide. I am unable to find figures for deaths or complications for 2018 in the UK.

      The World Health Organisation makes it clear that infant mortality is above all a consequence of poverty and malnutrition. It’s worth also noting that Pasteur once said that the disease is nothing, the territory is everything. In other words, the overall health of the individual is more important than the disease itself. The point I am making here is that, rather than being a medical problem, measles is essentially a political problem, related directly to the power imbalance between rich countries and their poorer neighbours. In affluent countries such as Ireland or the UK, measles is simply not a problem. We are employing a hugely expensive sledgehammer to crack a nut which isn’t worth cracking in the first place.

      Whilst there are certainly vested interests in maintaining the current immunisation regime, I am not going to try and suggest a conspiracy. There’s no need; what I notice is how terrified people are in general, and about death and disease in particular, epitomised for me in fear around measles which, when I had it, was regarded as a minor inconvenience.

      We have evolved in a symbiotic relationship with all diseases – including measles – over millions of years. We need to go beyond the question, what does measles do *to* us, and question what childhood diseases might be doing *for* us. What happens when we disrupt that natural relationship? In the longer term, what are the consequences of replacing a natural process of immunity in the general population, as against the, as yet unknown long-term consequences of vaccination?

      1. Thank goodness you wrote this Sophie100. The far left have got some homework to do I am afraid and yet putting it simply – how can you be a socialist and NOT understand the motives of bigpharma to be malign? It is in their interest to keep the sales of their drugs and vaccines growing. That is how capitalism works. They need to work out how to keep the children in the west – where there is food, sanitation and shelter – sick. There’s the rub. Unvaccinated children in the west do not make much money. They do not become asthmatic, do not have early antibiotic dosing and they do not suffer from long term conditions which make the Pharma industry tick. See the 2017 peer reviewed paper here I am afraid there is lots more to understand before you go bad mouthing people who question the motives of the vaccine industry and refuse the injecting of neurotoxins into their 8 week old babies. Sorry Canary – you really need to shape up on this debate. If you are supporting mandatory vaccination then state coercion is on its way in and human rights are actually on their way out. Please think again and let’s have a better bit of journalism than this click bait

    2. Thank you for that, that was my experience when I had measles as a child. The high death tolls are in poor countries with a lack of clean water and sanitation and a healthy diet. While the vaccine may stop children in poor countries dying of measles the same children could be dying of other poverty related diseases.
      Also, the single vaccines were recently phased out, denying an alternative to those with concerns for the vaccine.
      Considering how many vaccines toddlers have these days, and considering how harmful and terrifying diseases such as polio and meningitis are, perhaps vaccines should only be used for the more deadly diseases.

      1. You could be right about polio and meningitis. On the other hand, to what extent do we now regard these as “killer diseases” since that was the received wisdom on which we were brought up. There is also an issue with how immunity in the general population works. In mediaeval times smallpox was endemic and could certainly be disfiguring. On the other hand, it’s not clear how many people actually died from smallpox. It seems likely that a smallpox epidemic today would indeed kill thousands, just as the first native Americans to meet Europeans died in their thousands from measles, because they had no defences whatsoever.

    3. As far as I understand Dr Wakefield’s story he was interested in connections brought to his attention as a gastroenterologist by parents of young children who had suffered regression after receiving the MMR vaccine. His paper did not claim categorically that A caused B, but stated that there was a link that should be investigated. His claim (I am not sure if this went into the paper) was that although the individual vaccines were clinically tested, the combination of vaccines had not been thoroughly trialled, and recommended the use of single vaccines to concerned parents. The Department of Health ceased to make single vaccines available soon after this, and GSK (or whatever it was at the time) did likewise. Wakefield and others were struck off, but one of Wakefield’s colleagues, Professor John Walker-Smith, was able to take the General Medical Council to court and he won – cleared himself of substantially the same charges that had been levelled at Wakefield. The judge said ‘that [the GMC’s] conclusions were based on “inadequate and superficial reasoning and, in a number of instances, a wrong conclusion”.’ This victory was under-reported, and the stain has stuck. Wakefield accounts for himself on video and at presentations, and I find his story plausible. He has never been anti-vaccine, in spite of the allegations. He has just pointed out that pharmaceutical companies can and do cut corners when it comes to public health – who knew? The other angle on this story is that the Department of Health gave indemnity to the pharmaceutical company concerned for MMR, meaning that it would have to shoulder any responsibility for its ill effects. See

      1. Vaccination is going to be a massive political issue. People have GOT to wake up to what is happening in the name of ‘health’ across the globe. It is the new imperialism. In the west it ensures children – who would otherwise be mostly drug free – become dependent on vaccines, antibiotics, asthma inhalers, steroid creams and so on – to break their otherwise healthy immune systems. In the Third World it is seen as an ‘expanding market’ – doing away with traditional healing systems and starting the ‘cascade of intervention’ that bigpharma does so well out of. Wake up sheeple! The Vaccine industry is nothing to do with health and everything to do with profit. Please start to look a bit deeper at how capitalism actually works and what it’s ‘march of progress’ actually entails.

        1. I’m always a tiny bit wary of the term “Big Pharma”. Pharmaceutical companies undoubtedly make enormous amounts of money on the back of fear of disease. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure how much they are a cause, and how much a symptom of a general fear of the natural world. I do believe, there are people working in drug companies who genuinely believe they are doing good, just as I also think that Bill Gates’s heart is actually in the right place. Microbiologists, understandably, become fascinated by their work, and can have huge difficulty with lifting their eye away from the microscope in order to see the wider implications of what they are doing.

          There is also the continued idea that every problem – even if it was never that much of a problem to begin with – can be solved through a hi-tech solution, even if experience might have taught us my now that hi-tech solutions almost always cause worse problems than those they were designed to resolve. It is so much simpler to develop a vaccine than it is to solve the wider issue of widespread poverty. The microbiologist is not paid to resolve poverty, whilst the politician who is, and doesn’t know how to, can find that blaming a microbe – and becoming enamoured of techniques to eradicate said microbe – is just so much simpler.

          I would hesitate to demonise either party. we need both of them to listen.

    4. Very heartened by the sensible comments to this article. Why do so many otherwise reasonable left wing commentators seem to go all gushy and uncritical when it comes to anything that resembles scientific orthodoxy (especially medical). Medical practice is awash with corrupt and abusive activity which The Canary should be sniffing out not supporting robotically!!!

    5. I am shocked at the canary’s implied support of big pharma here. How anyone can believe what the pharmaceutical industry promotes as in the best interests of health is beyond me. It makes me question the quality of reporting. This is a shame because usually I enjoy some of the canary articles. Now I will have to question their validity

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