An opportunity in the Samoan tragedy

Currently Samoa is having a terrible measles outbreak which has killed about 70 people. The reason for the outbreak is, because of anti vaccine misinformation, vaccination rates for measles were at 31%. They are working hard to vaccinate as many people as possible and believe they currently have the vaccination rate up to about 91% of “eligible” people, whatever “eligible” means. Vaccination rates have to be 93% to 95% to prevent the spread of an outbreak. An anti-vaxxer was recently arrested for publicly opposing the vaccination efforts in Samoa, even as children were dying of an easily preventable disease.

I certainly hope that the medical community is taking note of this. By gathering the numbers of the percent of the population vaccinated before and after AND the percent of the population diagnosed as autistic before and after they can finally definitively show without question that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Tripling the number of vaccinated people in a matter of weeks would easily show any correlation between vaccines and autism just a few years down the road. Since anti-vaxxers believe that vaccines give children autism you don’t have to wait 20 years to see if they have autism then. You only have to wait a year or two to see that, predictably by all current medical understanding, the numbers do not spike.

While this is terrible for the people of Samoa I hope the medical community is seeing this as an opportunity to definitively put this disinformation down once and for all. Tragedy aside, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to definitively debunk this dangerous disinformation in short order.

Yup. I know lots of antivaxxers. They’re all somehow well educated yet unable to learn.

This is a tragedy, and if it’s at all possible to make something good come out of it, it should be done.

But I wouldn’t get my hopes up. With the amount of data and information available on this topic, those people who still think it’s a conspiracy are not going to change their minds over a few more deaths. It’ll probably make their conspiracy theories go deeper and darker if anything.

There is a lot of data showing them wrong and they do prefer the anecdotal evidence instead and one discredited publication. But I think this is different. This is a single source where vaccination rates went from 31% to over 90% in a matter of weeks. It’s the perfect testing grounds. You can’t cherry pick the numbers you like if there’s only one source of numbers. If you can definitively show that tens of thousands, perhaps over 100,000 people getting vaccinated in a matter of weeks had zero negative impact on public health it’s the data to beat all data. They tend to like to jump around from this case to that case to those cases, picking and choosing specific, anecdotal evidence to “show” that they are right. But all you have to do is say, “Look at Samoa. Vaccination rates went from 31% to over 90% in a matter of weeks as tens of thousands of people got vaccinated. They have not seen any of what you are claiming, therefore you are wrong.” It’s a pretty definitive “We have a really good test of your claims, you are wrong” defense of science.

You can’t cherry pick the numbers you like if there’s only one source of numbers. If you can definitively show that tens of thousands, perhaps over 100,000 people getting vaccinated in a matter of weeks had zero negative impact on public health it’s the data to beat all data.
For the sake of every life it would save, I hope you're right.

But since I’ve seen no limit on how many facts some people are willing to ignore in support of a pet conspiracy, I still lean towards little to no progress on this front.

By definition and course, autism begins in early development. That is also when lots of vaccines are given. Hence it is going to happen that signs of autism are going to begin sometimes, in temporal proximity to having gotten a vaccine/s. People often think that their child, who did begin showing signs of autism, after getting a vaccine, meant the vaccine caused the autism. The studies that have been done have not shown that vaccines cause autism. But there is not certainty that ZERO children will have no problematic reactions (even neurological ones) from having a particular vaccine. Any medicine may have adverse effects on anyone. Vaccines typically don’t, but in very rare cases, yes. So what’s a parent to do? They want to save their child. The rational answer is they should get the child vaccinated, unless their physician advises against it for some reason.

With the Samoa situation, chances are that a few of the 100K children were going to get autism anyway. For a study as suggested in this thread to be done well, all of the 100k children should have been screened for signs of autism before the vaccine. This may seem like a big chore, but all young children should be screened for autism, anyway, because the earlier it is detected, the earlier intensive treatment can begin. And early intensive treatment tends to have the best outcomes for kids with autism.

I suggest that best medical practice across the world would be to screen EVERY child for autism at 1 yr, 18 mos, and 2 yrs of age. That would not only save some children from the worst outcomes of autism, if they can then receive effective treatment. It would also provide a database, that would be useful in researching connections or further determining a lack of causal connection of vaccines and neurological problems in children.


I’m going to commit a bit of a fallacy and say, “there was a study”, even though I can only remember just skimming an article about. Maybe it wasn’t a study, so much as just running the numbers and knowing statistics. The conclusion was basically what Tim said, if you take the vaccine schedule and put it against the age range when autism appears, the odds are high that autism will appear within a week or two of getting some major shot or shots. It might appear statistically significant, but it’s not.

I don’t disagree with any of that. I’m simply saying that were there a link between autism and vaccines then increasing the vaccinated population three fold would cause a notable uptick in cases of autism. If we can say that before the vaccinations X% of the population was autistic and after the vaccinations it was till at or near X% it would neatly disprove a correlation. I was just talking about watching the numbers, not doing an intensive study, which would be fascinating, but it’s already too late to start that now.

And one of the reasons people in Samoa were afraid of vaccinations was because of a couple of infant deaths caused by a nurse or nurses mixing in the wrong medicines and overdosing the infants. I believe I read it was 2 deaths. Certainly scary as hell as a parent. So yeah, things can go wrong with vaccines. Or any medicine. I’m not claiming that injecting anything into your body is 100% safe all the time or anything. I’m just saying that if you note the cases of autism before 2/3 of the population got vaccinated in a matter of weeks, then note it again 2 years down the road, an apples-to-apples comparison of autism rates from the such a huge mass vaccination would be a simple, easily explained example with no anecdotal evidence which would be very compelling to anyone for whom anti-vax wasn’t a religion.

I don’t disagree with any of that.
I didn't think you would. It may be a few more years before the percent of people with autism settles to a point where people won't be able point to that anymore. I'm not sure if anything special needs to be done in Samoa to track it. You probably heard that people correlated the two because autism cases were rising as the number of vaccines rose. But, autism was rising only because the spectrum was broadened and more people were correctly diagnosed to be on that spectrum. This was good because then people were treated for what they had, not as some other derogatory description.

I think all that would need to be done is for some qualified person or, better, reputable, qualified group to gather the statistics in a couple of years and present them in a straight forward, unbiased fashion.

I actually had not heard about that reason for the correlation. I was aware of the single, now retracted, debunked and discredited story linking the two, paid for by lawyers who needed the link to win a lawsuit, but I really haven’t followed the history of autism or anti-vaxxers all that much. I was just getting into the “what if” part of listening to these claims when I had my epiphany on all of these pseudo-scientific claims, that I am not qualified to form an opinion and I needed to simply listen to those who were rather than trying to look up the information myself on questionable websites with obvious biases, if you bothered to notice them. It was actually looking into climate change that lead me to that epiphany, so I never really bothered to look that deeply into anti-vax claims. I simply decided “doctor telling me it’s good” > “some rando on the Internet telling me it’s bad” at that point.