A comparison with measles and the reactionary Anti-Vaxx campaigners
by Almedina Gunic, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 6 February 2020, www.thecommunists.net
The wave of hysteria on the new Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) with its first known case originated in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province Hubei in December 2019, seems to be at its peak. In a very telling article by The New York Times, the author describes measures of the Chinese state apparatus against potentially infected people in Wuhan and other parts of the country, including dragnets which are set up as traps and demanding people to report their neighbors if they suspect them to be infected (1).
However, it is not the Stalinist-capitalist regime in Beijing which is treating the Chinese people as pariahs. Also other imperialist states act with undisguised chauvinism against people from China.
The United States have closed the borders for Chinese residents and put their own citizens into quarantine on a military base in Sacramento, after they came back from China. A number of racist outbreaks against people from Asia (including migrants from states like Vietnam, Cambodia and others) have been reported in the U.S. Some official reactions were as racist: for example, the Berkeley University of California characterized in a tweet individual chauvinist attacks in this context as “normal reactions” (2).
The same is true for European countries, where the chauvinist hysteria included banning people from China to enter restaurants in Italy (3). The German journal Der Spiegel ran the headline “Made in China” with a picture of a person in protective gear. Similar examples of Anti-Chinese racism took place in Japan, South Korea and even Hong Kong (4).
One has to be clear that nothing of this is a “natural” reaction respectively a common reaction to a disease in our present time. One has also to be clear that the medical threat has absolutely nothing to do with the racist reactions. Let us look at the measles, for example. Based on the infection rate, potential complications and mortality nobody can argue against the fact that measles (aka rubeola) are far worse!
Deadly Rubeola Virus
The World Health Organization stated 24,554 confirmed cases of infections and 492 confirmed cases of deaths by the 2019-nCoV until 5th February this year (5). It seems that one person infected by 2019-nCov might pass the virus to approximately 3 others (6). This is the first contact for us humans with this new virus. However, in the case of the first outbreak of measles on the island of Fiji in 1875, rubeola killed one third (!) of the whole population within four months. The same happened to the people of Hawaii in 1848 when they first got in touch with the rubeola virus, which also led to the death of one third of the population (7). Measles spread to more than 90% of children and youth without antibodies making it one of the most contagious diseases we know (8).
Our bodies are capable of developing antibodies after a survived measles infection. For the first year in a newborns life, the antibodies from the mother keep them protected as well. Although this kind of protection developed and became later the basis for the creation of successful vaccination against rubeola, the mortality rate of infected people were still high after dozens of generations.
In 1657 a Boston merchant records the first outbreak of measles. More than 200 years later, in 1861 still 4,000 deaths out of 67,000 infected soldiers from the Union Army during U.S. civil war were counted (9). It was only after 1963, the year of the development of the first vaccination against rubeola, that mankind was able to really limit the infection rate and mortality caused by the measles. Nevertheless, approximately 140,000 deaths caused by rubeola in 2018 have been reported to the World Health Organization (10) with an expected massive increase of deaths for the last year (11). This is the case although we know this disease since centuries and have developed generations after generations of antibodies, have developed effective vaccination against it many decades ago and have well informed medical experts on the virus all around the world. Still the death toll for rubeola is so much higher than the 2019-nCoV without causing the same hysterical wave. The opposite is the case as a movement against the rubeloa vaccination developed in the last years!
Anti-Vaxx Lunatics in Imperialist Countries
The brothers and sisters infected by the 2019-nCoV are treated as a plague irrespective of their reasonable coping with the disease while, at the same time, a crazy bunch of Anti-Vaccination campaigners spread misinformation about measles with little to no consequences. The most prominent argument brought forward by the so-called Anti-Vaxxers is the lie that the MMR vaccination causes autism (12). Aside of the unintelligent conclusion that they rather let children die from measles before they accept a child with autism – an immoral and bigoted worldview at least – the Anti-Vaxxers themselves are a huge health threat.
One can argue that people who refuse vaccination only damage their own respectively their children's health. However, this is not true as they become a serious risk to public health beyond creating confusion and insecurity. This is due to the so-called herd immunity (13). Most people have no medical counter-indications to a MMR vaccination but some humans are resistant in developing the antibodies although they receive proper vaccination. Not developing the needed antibodies equals lacking of protection against an infection by rubeola. Others have a weak immune system, especially very young children, old people and invalids. They are in the same danger of being infected by rubeola and are additionally under increased danger to develop complications which lead to death. This is where the concept of herd immunity becomes a vital factor for the protection of these people.
All persons who are successfully vaccinated against rubeola help to limit the potential of the virus to spread. Normally the number of people who are successfully vaccinated would be so high that measles can be wiped out and by this all are protected against the disease. One can imagine a person not able to develop antibodies respectively too weak to receive the vaccination being circulated by people who are successfully vaccinated. The latter become some sort of protection shield that blocks the virus to reach the person who has no vaccination. Herd immunity however doesn't work if the number of people without proper vaccination becomes too high. Unfortunately, it just needs some thousand Anti-Vaxxers to crash the effective shield of herd immunity and to spread the virus to our brothers and sisters with more vulnerable health conditions, causing their death. This is due to the fact that – contrary to newborns, the elder and invalids – most ideologically convinced unvaccinated people have a higher grade of mobility. The Anti-Vaxxer's campaign was most prominently reported in the U.S. (14).
Anti-Vaxx sentiments in Semi-Colonies
The Anti-Vaxx movement is obviously totally reactionary in the imperialist countries but the situation is far more complicated for some semi-colonial countries and for a number of oppressed ethnicities. This is due to various and complex reasons. Samoa for example witnessed a massive drop of acceptance for the MMR vaccination after two nurses were sentenced to prison for mixing liquid muscle relaxant instead of water into the vaccination formula causing the death of two infants. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the rejection towards vaccinations for polio (another harmful but evitable disease) were caused by the CIA tracking down Osama Bin Laden by gaining information via an undercover polio vaccination team (15).
There are also a number of ethnicities like the ultra orthodox Jews and the Roma and Sinti who have very low vaccination rates. This has various reasons including the poverty in which some of the ethnicities still live today. However, there is also a long history of oppression in which medical treatment was a great risk for these ethnicities. An example for this is the forced sterilizations of Roma and Sinti in the time of the fascist regime of the Third Reich (16). While fascism is not at power in these days, people of oppressed ethnicities have a strong historical memory – even more so as they face today racist and even fascist attacks.
Fight for the Revolutionary Road!
Given the historical experiences of our oppressed brothers and sisters, it is no wonder if they fear vaccinations by those who have oppressed them respectively still oppress them. It is therefore highly important to fight for access to medical education for the oppressed, so that doctors and nurses whom they trust as they are part of the same community can explain and implement treatments. As long as this goal is not reached, revolutionaries should try to convince these ethnicities without putting pressure on them and accept if our oppressed brothers and sisters still reject vaccinations.
The same is true for our brothers and sisters in semi-colonial countries. It is the duty of the international workers movement to develop and implement broad educational advertising together with organizations and individuals of the various oppressed communities. We have to build enough trust in vaccinations and medical treatments as such.
The Anti-Vaxxers in the imperialist countries however are a severe threat without any reasonable justification which revolutionaries would have to accept. They are the personification of reactionary ignorance and one of the strongest arguments against the current chauvinist hysteria on the 2019-nCoV! They are consciously threatening the life of thousands with spreading viruses like rubeola which are far more dangerous without full access to vaccination. However, these people are accepted while the Chinese – a population of more than a billion – are demonized!
All revolutionaries have to be clear about the causes behind the chauvinist hysteria and have to take an unambiguous anti-imperialist stance as it has been formulated in the RCIT statement “2019 Corona Virus: Oppose the Global Wave of Chauvinist Hysteria!”. The RCIT correctly says: “There can be no doubt: the reason for the global hysteria of the ruling classes does not lie in health precautions but rather in political calculations.”(17)
Comrades, brothers and sisters: Don't be confused by the seemingly apolitical, medical appearance of the “concerns” around the 2019-nCoV. With the increased inner-imperialist rivalry even such events become political. It is our joint task to fight the virus of chauvinism – a virus we can stay immune of as long as we keep our anti-imperialist stance strong and healthy!
(1) China, Desperate to Stop Coronavirus, Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor. By Paul Mozur. New York Times, February 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/03/business/china-coronavirus-wuhan-surveillance.html
(2) Xenophobia 'Is A Pre-Existing Condition.' How Harmful Stereotypes and Racism are Spreading Around the Coronavirus. By Jasmine Aguilera. TIME, February 3, 2020, https://time.com/5775716/xenophobia-racism-stereotypes-coronavirus/
(3) Outbreaks of xenophobia in west as coronavirus spreads Incidents of hostility towards Asian people reported in Italy, France, Canada and UK. By Angela Giuffrida, Kim Willsher. The Guardian, January 31, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/31/spate-of-anti-chinese-incidents-in-italy-amid-coronavirus-panic
(4) Fears of new virus trigger anti-China sentiment worldwide. By Hyung-Jin Kim. AP News, February 2, 2020, https://apnews.com/04f18aafe1074a1c06b4203edcbdc661
(5) Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Report. World Health Organization (WHO), Data as reported by February 5, 2020, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200205-sitrep-16-ncov.pdf?sfvrsn=23af287f_4
(6) Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV: early estimation of epidemiological parameters and epidemic predictions. By Jonathan M. Read, Jessica R.E. Bridgen, Derek A.T. Cummings, Antonia Ho, Chris P. Jewell. MedRxiv, Version 2, January 27, 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.23.20018549v2.full.pdf
(7) Why It Took So Long to Eliminate Measles. By Tara Haelle. History, February 7, 2019, https://www.history.com/news/measles-vaccine-disease
(8) Measles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA), April 15, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/meas.html
(9) How bad is the measles comeback? Here’s 70 years of data. By Nsikan Akpan, Vanessa Dennis. PBS, June 18, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/how-bad-is-the-measles-comeback-heres-70-years-of-data
(10) More than 140,000 die from measles as cases surge worldwide. Joint News Release. WHO, December 5, 2019, https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/05-12-2019-more-than-140-000-die-from-measles-as-cases-surge-worldwide
(11) Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. New measles surveillance data from WHO, August 12, 2019, https://www.who.int/immunization/newsroom/new-measles-data-august-2019/en/
(12) US in danger of losing measles-free status, a 'mortifying' effect of anti-vaxx movement. By Grace Hauck. USA Today, September 13, 2019, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/09/13/us-could-lose-measles-free-status-if-outbreak-continues-new-york/2300281001/
(13) Herd immunity (Herd protection), Vaccine Knowledge Project. University of Oxford, August 29, 2019, http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/herd-immunity
(14) How Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Took Hold in the United States. By Jan Hoffman. The New York Times, September 23, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/23/health/anti-vaccination-movement-us.html
(15) If the U.S. had Samoa’s current level of measles cases, there would now be more than 7 million infected Americans. By Rick Noack and Miriam Berger. The Washington Post, December 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/12/06/if-us-had-samoas-current-level-measles-cases-there-would-now-be-more-than-million-infected-americans/
(16) Under-vaccinated groups in Europe and their beliefs, attitudes and reasons for non-vaccination; two systematic reviews. By N. Fournet, L. Mollema,corresponding author, W. L. Ruijs, I. A. Harmsen, F. Keck, J. Y. Durand, M. P. Cunha, M. Wamsiedel, R. Reis, J. French, E. G. Smit, A. Kitching, J. E. van Steenbergen. BMC Public Health, January 30, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789742/
(17) The Persecution of the Roma Is Often Left Out of the Holocaust Story. Victims’ Families Are Fighting to Change That. By Rachael Bunyan. TIME, November 30, 2019, https://time.com/5719540/roma-holocaust-remembrance/
(18) 2019 Corona Virus: Oppose the Global Wave of Chauvinist Hysteria! Workers and oppressed: Do not trust the ruling class and its media! A Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 05.02.2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/2019-corona-virus-oppose-the-global-wave-of-chauvinist-hysteria/