2019 was marked by many tragedies but few could have compared with the measles epidemic that swept Samoa. It killed 83 people (as of the end of December 2019) , nearly all of whom were children aged under four, and it infected 5,520 people in total. To put this in context, Samoa only has a total population of approximately 200,900 people. What makes this measles epidemic such a d tragedy is not only the numbers of babies and toddlers killeor infected but the grim reality that the epidemic could have been avoided.
Samoan society is deeply religious: a legacy of the Christian missionaries who converted the people of Samoa during the 19th Century, a country that was first occupied by German imperialism between 1899 and 1914 and then by New Zealand (British) imperialism between 1914 and
1962. Today the largest religious groups in Samoa are the Congregational Christians (32 per cent), Roman Catholics (19 per cent), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Mormon] (15 per cent), Methodists (14 per cent), Assemblies of God (8 per cent) and Seventh Day Adventists (4 per
cent). All of these churches have been heavily influenced by the Christian fundamentalism which has swept through much of the Christian faith, especially since the election of Trump as the President of the United States in 2016. A key part of that fundamentalism has been the incorpora-
tion of conspiracy theories, including conspiracies surrounding vaccinations.
More than 140,000 people around the world died from measles last year, most of them children under the age of 5, according to a report published by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on December 5, 2019 (ABC news, December 6). This is
despite a measles vaccine being readily available. Most of them died as the direct result of mis-information by anti-vaccination campaigners, misleading people about the links between the measles vaccination and autism.
According to BBC2 (October 10th, 2019), the conspiracy theory linking the (measles, mumps and rubella) MMR vaccine with autism was initally promoted by British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism.
Wakefield’s claims were swiftly investigated by scientists, journalists and lawyers in a decade long “vaccine” court. However, many grassroots organisations and celebrities took to protesting against
vaccinations with Robert Kennedy Jnr going so far as to claim that mercury was being used in the vaccination. Wakefield was discredited and struck off the British Medical Registry but the damage had been done. There was no link between vaccine and mercury, and no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. But the conspiracy theories had now moved on to social media and on-line websites.
These conspiracy theories gained a new lease of life when a movie was announced claiming that there was a research cover- up at the highest levels of the U.S scientific establishment in which documents were destroyed in a dustbin. When this movie was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival, it was claimed by conspiracy theorists that “the truth” was being censored. With the move away from the mainstream, the popularity of anti-vaccination material has increased, especially in countries where the main sources of information are gained from social media
websites. The measles epidemic in Samoa is one of many examples of how pseudo-science has had deadly real world consequences.
The main result of all the anti-vaccination conspiracies doing the rounds in various churches and on social media was its influence on the vaccination rates in Samoa. Between 2016 and 2017, Samoa’s vaccination rate plummeted from 74 per cent to just 34 per cent. To make matters worse the death of
two Samoan infants as the result of the MMR vaccine being improperly prepared resulted in the suspension of the MMR vaccination programme from July 2018 to April 2019 while the government investigated these deaths. (ABC news, November 28th, 2019). Anti-vaccination campaigners were able to use this opportunity to spread fear and uncertainty amongst the Samoan community about the MMR vaccination option.
There is no doubt that such scaremongering contributed to the outbreak and spread of the epidemic.
The measles epidemic in Samoa forced the government to take the unprecedented step of placing the entire country under quarantine and asking those people who have not been immunised to place red flags on their doors. This extreme measure has helped to finally curb the epidemic in Samoa, but for many it is has been too late.
As Marxists the measles epidemic in Samoa is a reminder of why we must be on guard against pseudo-science, peddled by demagogues who pose as so-called “anti-Establishment” and “anti-Capitalist” campaigners. Just because a product, such as a vaccine, is made by a faceless multinational corporation it doesn’t make the vaccination itself evil or part of a conspiracy to mass medicate the gullible masses or make large numbers of people sick so these companies will always have customers.
It is, in reality, far more profitable for a corporation to manufacture vaccinations that prevent diseases. The US$42.294 billion dollar revenues of Merck & Co Incorporated, which is licenced to manufacture and sell the MMR vaccination, proves that!
What is evil is that vaccinations are manufactured and sold under licence by private corporations who charge individual customers, health providers and governments large sums of money and profit handsomely as a result. The role of Big Pharma as a source of massive profits at our expense is the real scandal, one that these religious fearmongers ignore, not least because of their links to right-wing organisations and capitalist politicians. Buying into fake conspiracies or false claims that the MMR vaccinations cause autism isn’t helping anyone, least of all the people who are suffering or dying needlessly because they didn’t get vaccinated.
What will help is the establishment of a socialist society where vaccinations are manufactured, tested and distributed throughout society by the State so that everyone can get immunised. We must
resist anti-vaccination propaganda and fight for a socialist society in which vaccines will no longer be seen as commodities but as life-saving fundamentals of life!
Socialist Appeal demands:
• Nationalisation of the big multinational pharmacutical companies under workers controls and management.
• For a fully funded public health system that is free at the point of use.
• For a socialist New Zealand as part of a socialist South Pacific, as part of a World socialist federation.