Stephanie Messenger

Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, a pro-disease book for children by Stephanie Messenger

This report appears in The Skeptic Zone Podcast #330 {Permalink}

"Marvelous"

“Marvelous”

In the wake of the current US measles outbreak, which began at Disneyland in California and has so far has resulted in 121 infections and thousands more people exposed across seventeen states (figures current for 15/02/2015), public and media attention has been directed toward the issues of vaccination and the anti-vaccination movement.

As we witness the very real effects of lowered herd immunity due to vaccine refusal, vocal support for vaccines has been prominent, as has criticism of anti-vaccination misinformation. In particular, public attention has again been drawn to “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles“; a picture book which attempts to reassure children that it’s a good thing to experience measles infection, written by Australian vaccination opponent Stephanie Messenger.

The blurb on the back cover gives a good summary as to what the book is about:

“Melanie’s Marvelous Measles was written to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body.”

You know… this book is troubling on so many levels. When I decided to cover it in my report this week, I initially wondered whether I’d have to present you with ten minutes of stunned silence.

The story within follows Tina, who arrives at her first day back at school after the winter holidays to find that her friend Melanie is absent. Their teacher, heavily pregnant, advises the class that Melanie is at home with measles. Some children are concerned and worried about catching measles.

“Tina heard Jared tell Travis, the boy beside him, that he wouldn’t get the measles because he had been vaccinated.
Travis said that he wasn’t vaccinated, but didn’t mind, until Jared then told him angrily, “Well, you’re going to die if you don’t get vaccinated.”
Travis thought about this for a minute and said to Jared “Well, I know that isn’t true because I haven’t had any vaccinations and I am still alive!”
Jared didn’t know what to say to that!”

And why should Jared? He’s a kid… a fictional one at that. However, adults – adults who write books for children – certainly should know better.

Of course kids who aren’t vaccinated aren’t necessarily ‘going to die’… the nuances of risk are utterly lacking in this book. It’s also a little heavy handed in portraying a vaccinated kid in a negative manner – more on this later.

Tina returns home after school and chats with her mother about Melanie, measles and the other children’s reactions. Tina’s mother, who has not vaccinated Tina after attributing an illness Tine’s older brother experienced to his vaccination, reassures Tina that the measles don’t hurt. She tells Karen that children get spots on their body and can feel very hot for a day or so, and that for most children it is a good thing to get measles, as many wise people believe measles make the body stronger and more mature for the future. Tina then asks her mother why the other children were scared. Her mother replies,

“They are scared because they don’t know much about measles and most people fear things they don’t know anything about. It’s a bit like being scared of the dark.”

irony!

Tina’s mother then tells her about pox parties, and “natural lifelong immunity”

This has always puzzled me greatly. If measles and chickenpox are absolutely fine to experience, why on earth do some anti-vaccinationists declare immunity gained by experiencing an illness to be a good thing? Bizarre.

The story continues. Tina asks her mother if she can go and visit Melanie in the hopes of catching her measles. Her mother feels that this is a great idea and suggests bringing carrot juice and melon to help Melanie recover.

Yep, they’re having a pox party for two.

Melanie greets Tina at the door and proudly shows off her spots, reassuring Tina that they don’t itch or hurt at all. Melanie’s mother is nonplussed at the efficacy of the measles vaccine Melanie recieved and mentions that Melanie has the worst case of measles the doctor had seen in years.

Melanie’s family doctor… must be rather limited in his experience, if an active and happy child with a rash is the worst case of measles he’s seen in years. Common measles symptoms include fever, malaise, runny nose, dry cough, conjunctivitis and rash… complications can include middle ear inflammation, diarrhoea and vomiting, respiratory infections, pneumonia, miscarriage and premature labour in pregnant women (such as Tina and Melanie’s teacher), encephalitis (which occurs in around one in a thousand measles cases – 10-15% of people with encephalitis die, 15-40% end up with degrees of permenant brain damage). There’s one complication of measles that Melanie’s family doctor wouldn’t have been able to spot though – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE. It’s rare, affecting around one in a hundred thousand cases of measles, but nasty… SSPE is progressive inflammation of the brain that causes loss of personality and intellectual disability. SSPE usually begins around seven years after measles infection.

It’s hard to fathom how anybody could be aware of these facts and still classify measles as a benign short-lived children’s illness… and one to actively seek out exposure to.

Back to the book, Tina’s mother talks about the ability of ‘plenty of vitamin A’ to prevent measles and assist recovery from measles. The girls play with dolls, hug and display wonderful manners.

A week later, Melanie is back at school with no rash. Tina and her mother are incredibly disappointed that Tina hasn’t contracted measles – Tina’s mother attributes this to Tina’s immune system being in good condition, because she eats lots of raw fresh food, drinks plenty of water and plays outside.

As much as it’s feeling like shooting fish in a barrel to point out the inaccuracies in this book… I find the downplaying of how highly infectious measles is is one of the most troubling elements in Melanie’s Marvelous Measles. Measles is airborne and lives a long time outside the human body… a person can become infected with measles by entering a room that somebody carrying it has been in two hours prior. It is estimated that nine in ten people without immunity who have contact with someone who is carrying measles will contract it. Measles symptoms usually occur 10-12 days after infection… all of this means that measles can spread like wildfire – particularly in areas of low herd immunity.

The book ends with the news that Jared, our vaccinated strawman, did get the measles. Tina attributes this to Jared eating so many sweets and chips, and sanctimoniously wishes, “I hope the measles make his body stronger and more mature and that he learns to eat more fresh foods so he can take better care of his body,”. The accompanying image is of an annoyed Jared laying in bed covered in spots with a hamburger, chips (labeled ‘MSG enriched, GM Full, I kid you not), cheezels, soda, cupcake, chocolate bar on his bedside table.

The emphasis on nutrition is heavy here – as is the suggestion that good foods can prevent disease as effectively as we know vaccines can. Of course good nutrition affects general health, but as my friend Alison so eloquently put it recently, “Diseases don’t care if you’ve eaten kale or McDonalds.”

The last page features Tina beaming up at her mother, juice in hand, fruit beside her, and exclaiming, “Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to catch measles next time someone we know has them!”

There’s a dedication in the front of the book, which I’m thinking some of the book’s intended audience, children from four to ten years old, would read if they were reading independently. It states,

“Dedication . . .
This book is dedicated to Jason, my first born son. In his short life he taught me to be a more responsible parent, and with his death from vaccinations, came my life purpose.”

It seems that Stephanie Messenger has experienced terrible grief in her life, which has led her on the path she pursues. However, I question whether it is responsible to associate infant death with vaccination in a book for children – at all, but especially when the dangers of measles are downplayed so greatly – the risks of vaccination versus the diseases they prevent are utterly skewed. If I were a kid, who trusted in this book and the adult who gave it to me, I would be terrified of vaccines and fairly blase about measles. Which is perhaps the aim of this book – but goodness, I find it troubling. Kids trust their caregivers to provide them with accurate guidance in life and this book does anything but.

Mainstream media outlets, news websites and forums have been linking to Amazon’s listing of Melanie’s Marvelous Measles – and the torrent of negative reviews which Amazon users have been leaving.

Now, I don’t know how many of these people who have reviewed the book have actually read it, or whether many are just responding to its very existence. Some of the reviews are rather poignant – amongst the anger, frustration, mockery and black humour, there are some salient points which I feel bear repeating, such as this review from “Seabisquick”:

“My infant daughter went blind after contracting measles from an unvaccinated child, and yet there’s no braille version of this wonderful book for me to give her someday to explain to her how awesome the disease that took her sight away is.”

Also this, from someone identified as “AD”:

“Wow! I will have to buy this for my Dad. He and my uncle had Polio as toddlers and both were left with permanent disabilities. Now, in their golden years, they get to suffer from Post-Polio Syndrome as an added bonus! Preventable diseases truly are “marvelous” – just ask my Dad!”

A five star review from “M. J. Willow”:

“I’m so glad this book is out! Here I was thinking the two weeks of my childhood spent in a darkened room with blinding headaches and a burning fever were not fun. It was the early sixties and the measles were all the rage, but I was too young and ignorant to realize I was experiencing a miracle. This book has opened my eyes. I had to read it through some thick eye glasses though. They’re almost as fun to wear as the little, plastic sunglasses I had to keep on when I watched tv with my viral pals, The Measles. To this day the measles protect me from getting too much sun as the sensitivity to light has never left me.

Just to be a part of history and to have lived under a quarantine that stretched out to almost a month when my mother took ill with my marvelous measles is an honor I didn’t recognize. Lucky for me though! I had immunity to the disease! Good thing my mother wasn’t pregnant then. At least, I don’t think she was. I have no siblings.

I must apologize to my children for withholding such a glorious experience from them. Vaccines were available and free for the taking when they were young. I can’t believe I fell for that. Hopefully, they will forgive me for denying them this life-changing experience.”

And finally this, from user “TampaGirl”:

“What a dirtbag move to steal the title of author Roald Dahl’s book “George’s Marvelous Medicine”– Roald Dahl’s daughter died of measles. This so-called author is just a leach on society, children, and the memory of Dahl’s little girl.”

Indeed, the title “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles” does bear resemblance to the title of Roald Dahl’s book “George’s Marvelous Medicine”.

Which leads me back to the media coverage relating to the current US measles outbreak. Circulating widely at the moment is an open letter which Roald Dahl wrote to parents in 1988, in which he urges them to vaccinate their children and speaks about his own experience of losing his seven year old daughter Olivia to measles in 1962.

It’s a heartbreaking but important read, and has been republished on many websites over the past few weeks; I’ll put a link in the show notes to its publication on Snopes, which also includes Dahl’s harrowing recollection of his daughter’s last day, and his wife Patricia Neal’s perspective on losing Olivia and the effect it had on Roald Dahl.

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“For Olivia 20 April 1955 – 17 November 1962”, in the front cover of The BFG by Roald Dahl.

So much of this is sad… that there’s an outbreak of measles in a country where it was considered eradicated, that some parents need convincing in order to vaccinate their children, that dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation – some directed at children – exists at all. Based on what I’ve been observing over the past month and a half since the US outbreak begun though, more and more members of the public are standing up for vaccination and criticising misinformation – and the media are acknowledging this sentiment.

While it’s lousy that it’s taken an outbreak to catalyse this wave of public support for vaccination, and the outbreak is unfortunately far from over, hopefully the pro-vaccination sentiment will strengthen as a result and some parents who are complacent or on the fence regarding vaccinating their children may reconsider their positions.

Sherri Tenpenny’s Australian Tour Cancelled #StopTenpenny

The following can also be heard on The Skeptic Zone #328 {Permalink}

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on anti-vaccine advocate Sherri Tenpenny’s planned speaking tour of Australia and the #StopTenpenny campaign. Well, there have been some developments… and at the risk of breaking continuity (and potentially the space-time continuum, who knows?), the big news first… on the 28th of January 2015, Sherri Tenpenny and tour organiser Stephanie Messenger announced that they had canceled their series of Australian seminars.

I left off my report on the 11th of January with news that all but two of the venues scheduled to host Tenpenny’s events had canceled their bookings. On January the 14th, Michael’s Oriental Restaurant in Brisbane made the announcement that they would no longer be hosting Sherri Tenpenny. Then on January 19th, an announcement appeared on the event page for the seminar to be held at Rydges Southpark Adelaide saying that the venue had cancelled the booking.

From the Eventbrite page:

“IMPORTANT NOTE:

The venue has cancelled our booking due to bullying by vested interests who do not believe in informed consent, free speech and respect for other’s rights, and who appear to support censorship of thought and science.

A new venue is being sought now so please book your ticket

You will be notified of the new venue in due time.

Thank you”

Indeed, the organisers of the event were still encouraging people to buy tickets, despite the fact that every venue had pulled out.

Meanwhile, those who had already bought tickets to the seminars were left with little information as to what was going on… no emails were sent, nor announcements made beyond the one I just read, which was placed on each Eventbrite event page.

The media coverage was equally as ambiguous. Tenpenny herself appeared on The Today Show, in which she referred to those who have campaigned against her seminars in Australia as “extremists” and mentioned that “bomb threats” have been recieved.

In fact, Sherri Tenpenny has mentioned “bomb threats” repeatedly to the media. Bomb threats are rather serious and ought to be treated as such – and of course, reported to the authorities for investigation.

The bomb threat that I have witnessed, and several people have made screen shots of, was left in a comment on the Facebook Page of Michael’s Oriental Restaurant.

vazquez

That’s not an okay thing to say.

Unfortunately, when Tenpenny has referred to the bomb threat, she has omitted mentioning who it came from… one of her supporters. The gentleman in question has a rather substantial history of making threats to vaccination advocates. Presumably he was angry at the prospect of Michael’s Oriental Restaurant potentially cancelling Tenpenny’s booking.

Now, I’m not willing to judge all of Tenpenny’s supporters by the actions of one person – all sorts of people take up causes without necessarily behaving in ways that are approved of by others who they campaign alongside. However, I am incredibly disappointed that Sherri Tenpenny has decided it acceptable to tell the media that bomb threats have been made without disclosing that they were made by one of her supporters. This omission, alongside claims that those who have campaigned against her seminars are “extremists” and “terrorists”, suggest to the public that one of her critics made the bomb threat, and I find this disingenuous to the extreme.

Some media outlets have, unfortunately, run with the “bomb threat” story without diligent investigation. I’m heartened though that others have looked into the issue further, witnessed the threat itself and its context, and have reported accurately.

The “bomb threat” was featured in a press release made by Sherri Tenpenny on the 28th of January, titled, “DR. SHERRI TENPENNY’S SPEAKING TOUR CANCELLED FOR REASONS OF SAFETY AND SECURITY

You know… I’ve been watching the #StopTenpenny campaign fairly closely and I have not witnessed any threats of violence coming from vaccination advocates. If I ever do witness such, I will condemn it incredibly strongly – threats and intimidation are utterly unacceptable. Any such behaviour should be reported to the authorities.

What I have witnessed are community members coming together to campaign against anti-vaccination seminars, which would have misinformed parents and parents to be on how to best protect the health of their children. They have done so via social media, petitions, letter writing to venues and MPs, collating publicly available information and blogging it, and engaging with the media.

To then have that characterised as a hateful campaign involving terrorism and extremism, to be compared with the Charlie Hebdo killers in Paris and the gunman behind the Sydney seige… well, how else are those who’ve had to back down going to frame their decision to do so. Claiming persecution perhaps fits their self and public images better than having to admit that an overwhelming number of Australians are willing to stand up and say no to the spread of misinformation that harms children.

I’d like to finish off with a few exerpts from Stephanie Messenger’s public announcement that the tour has been cancelled. To be frank, I find some of it a little bizarre… and I’m glad that she posted it, as perhaps a few people who came to hear of Sherri Tenpenny and Stephanie Messenger via the media coverage of the now cancelled tour, will have a look at where Stephanie Messenger is coming from and find it… a little less likely to be evidence-based.

From Stephanie Messenger.

“With the pro-vaccine extremists running their campaign of hate, intimidation, bullying, sabotage of businesses and threats of violence, we could not in good conscience put the attendees, speakers and new venue owners at risk of violence and harassment. We are mindful that at each seminar there were already people booked in who were bringing babies and children along and as we are all about protecting babies and children, we are not willing to go ahead and risk their safety.
When you are dealing with extremists, you just never know what they are capable of doing as we have recently seen with the Sydney siege, and also, the Paris violence against free speech.
These pro-vaccine extremists are actually:
terrorists against free speech – they are against people accessing all information to make an informed decision regarding this medical procedure,
they are in favour of human sacrifice as they know some babies are injured and killed by vaccines, but think this is OK ‘for the ‘perceived’ good of the community”,
they are against people sharing whatever information they want and therefore they are in favour of censorship,
they believe bullying is acceptable when they do it. Venue owners were threatened, harassed and intimidated to cancel the contracts we had in place. This is bullying.
Of course they deny all this, but please look to their actions – these speak louder than the words that they speak with their forked tongues. What you do and say in this world is a declaration of who you really are, and these people certainly made plenty of statements about themselves. Basically they are low vibrating souls who have behaved in rude, arrogant, vile, intolerant, controlling, abusive, manipulative and ignorant ways and so, have declared this is who they really are. They are so far away from truth that they are trying to hold on to their ignorant and fearful position not matter what. Just know, as higher vibrating souls who have learnt the truth, you can do much more to advance the truth for all to learn by speaking out whenever you have an opportunity.”

That’s about half of it – you can read the rest at your own leisure on the GanKinMan Foundation’s Facebook Page.

And for anyone wondering, this ‘low vibrating soul’ received an automatic refund for the full purchase price of the ticket, $79.92, from Stephanie Messenger, via Eventbrite and Paypal yesterday.

eventbrite

The #StopTenpenny Campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia – Podcast Report

On The Skeptic Zone Podcast #325 {Permalink}, Evidence, Please has a report on the #StopTenpenny campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia by US anti-vaccine campaigner Sherri Tenpenny.

Below are the links I’ve mentioned on the report, plus a transcript below the jump.

Social Media:

#StopTenpenny on Twitter
Stop Sherri Tenpenny from entering Australia Facebook Page

Blog Posts and Facebook Statements:

Reasonable Hank, “2015 anti-vaccine tour of Australia – the Tenpenny caravan of hurt
Diluted Thinking, “Anti-vaccination Seminars in 2015 by Stephanie Messenger
Diluted Thinking, “Healthy Lifestyles Naturally (HLN) – Seminars
Reasonable Hank, “Getting to know Sherri Tenpenny – a guide
Reasonable Hank, “Venues confirm being misled by anti-vaccine Messenger – Tenpenny tour
Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network, Statement regarding SAVN views and intentions are regarding Tenpenny’s visit

Media Reports:

4th January 2015
The Daily Telegraph, Jane Hansen, “Pro-vaccine lobby fight to stop US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny lecturing in Australia

5th January 2015
Mamamia, Amy Stockwell, “This woman is a danger to children. And she’s coming to Australia.
The Daily Mail, Louise Cheer, “Should this woman be allowed to preach her anti-vaccine warnings in Australia? Parents’ outrage over American doctor’s child health seminars
news.com.au, Jane Hansen, “Uproar as US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny announces trip to Australia
The Guardian, Michael Safi, “US anti-vaccine activist Dr Sherri Tenpenny plans Australian tour in March
The 7:30 Report, Jane Cowan, “Anti-vaccination lobby to blame for US return of preventable diseases say doctors” (video)

6th January 2015
3AW Radio, “Victorian Health Minister slams anti-vaccine movement
SBS, Shanthi Benjamin, “Calls for government to deny visa to US anti-vaccine activist
The Age, “Vaccine row about to boil over
Sunshine Coast Daily, Adam Davies, “Push to ban anti-vaccination campaigner from Aussie tour
ABC PM Radio, Bridget Brennan, “Controversial anti-vaccination campaigner to visit Australia
The Project TV, “Ms Information – the campaign against an anti-vaccination campaigner who plans a speaking tour in Australia

Times Live, Katharine Child, “No vaccine for Mandela-itis
The Age, Julia Medew, “Doctors want to bar anti-vaccination campaigner
ABC, Bridget Brennan, “Calls to deny visa to American anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny to speak in Australia
Junkee, Meg Watson, “Why You Should Join The Campaign To Stop Anti-Vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny Coming To Australia
Health of Ukraine, “Scandal in Australia : the inhabitants of the country are outraged at lectures about the dangers of vaccines” (in Russian)
Herald Sun, Phillipa Butt, “Health Minister urges organisers to cancel event featuring anti-vaccination activist Sherry Tenpenny
The Age, Nick Galvin, “ABC’s 7.30 under fire over anti-vaccination campaigner James Maskell

7th January 2015

New Zealand Herald, Daily Mail, “‘Deny her a visa’ – Australian outrage over anti-vaccination activist’s speaking tour
Queensland Health, Dr Sonya Bennett, “Queensland Health’s response to anti-vaccination discussions
The Guardian, Weekly Beast, “7:30 falls into vax wars
ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Who is the controversial anti-vaccination campaigner planning to visit Australia?

ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner” (Republished on Mamamia)
SBS News, “A controversial American anti-vaccination campaigner may be prevented from entering Australia.
ABC News , “Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner

8th January 2015

The Age, Eryk Bagshaw, “Sherri Tenpenny: US anti-vaccination campaigner’s Sydney and Melbourne shows cancelled
Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Medew, “Venues cancel events featuring US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny
Medical Observer, “Doctors protest anti-vax speaking tour” (Login required)
3AW Radio, “Talking Health –  Sally Cockburn interviews Meryl Dorey and John Cunningham” (audio only)

9th January 2014

The Daily Mail, “More venues cancel anti-vax seminars
The Today Show, “Prof Peter McIntyre refutes Dr Tenpenny anti-vaccination beliefs” (video)

The Today Show, ‘The Grill’, “Misinformation tour by anti-vaccination activist” (video)
The Guardian, Oliver Milman, “Anti-vaccination campaigner compares critics to Charlie Hebdo attackers

11th January 2015

Sydney Morning Herald, “Anti-vaccination views are misguided – but not illegal
Daily Life, Jacqueline Maley, “Anti-vaccination advocate’s tour in tatters after most venues cancel
Sunrise TV, “Health experts urge parents to vaccinate kids” (video)

Skeptical Coverage:

Doubtful News, “Tenpenny’s anti-vaccination tour hits a snag in Australia (Update)
Society for Science Based Medicine, “They Do Not Shrug Down Under

Petitions:

change.org, “Petition to Refuse Sherri Tenpenny’s Visa into Australia
The Parenthood, “Petition to STOP anti-vax. campaigner Sherri Tenpenny #StopTenpenny

Event Links:

EventBrite Event Listing and Ticket Sales
GanKinMan Foundation
GanKinMan Foundation FB Page
Birth, Baby and Beyond FB Event

 

Report transcript:

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