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Staff Editorials

Measles deaths and vaccine safety, look at the numbers, then decide

By Dan Pool , Editor

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It was an interesting contrast on CNN the other day with a pediatrician discussing the medical reasons his patients should receive measles vaccinations and a mother discussing why she “believed” the shots posed risks.

The pediatrician cited facts some of which were also included in an article by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the CNN website. In that article, Dr. Gupta, an American neurosurgeon and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine and associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, said he hated to write an opinion piece on measles as what he had to say was fact.

Gupta noted vaccines have prevented 6 million deaths every year worldwide and have fundamentally changed modern medicine “The benefit of vaccines is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.”

  Dr. Gupta continued, “That you are 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects you against measles is not a matter of opinion.”

The mother for her argument explained that a friend had a child vaccinated and he had acted “funny” ever since -- nothing documented. There was a famous study from 1988 about a link between vaccines and autism, but that was later retracted as the author admitted to outright fabrication of research. He has since been striped of his medical credentials.

Later the same day I noticed on Facebook some comments that measles vaccines have killed more people than the disease over the past several years. Some cited the vaccine kill rate as high as 1,000 over the last three years.

My “BS” detector went on high alert on those claims. How could a vaccine kill more people than the disease itself? Seemed unlikely. (a website to debunk internet myths) was ahead of me in their skepticism. They had called that particular canard as “provably false.”

According to the research from that site, which generally cited either the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO), measles had killed fewer than 10 people since 2010 in the United States. But if you count worldwide deaths, “in 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day,” according to WHO.

UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Lions Club International all consider measles a fairly big threat worldwide. UNICEF predicted that 1.7 million children could die from the disease in the next 3 years without further action – vaccinations.

As to purported vaccine deaths, most cited a website for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a research site of sorts. But the website itself notes it relies on “passive reporting,” meaning anyone can send in reports which are not verified. The website does not hide how it operates and notes clearly, “No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report.”

  On the other hand, the medical journal Pediatrics did a story where they screened 20,000 scientific titles and 67 papers on vaccine safety and concluded simply enough that vaccines are safe and work.

UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Red Cross, the Lions Club International and the United Nations Foundation are working to spread vaccines around the world.  On the Lions Club International website, they cited one of their joint goals is “by the end of 2015 to reduce global measles deaths by at least 95 percent compared with 2000 levels.”

The areas where the groups are having trouble spreading the vaccines are places like Afghanistan -- poor, violent and lacking in educated populace.

Ironically, they may have to add to that list, particularly affluent, educated areas in the United States where parents are refusing to vaccinate their children because they “believe” that vaccines are harmful.

Cut benefits, expect bus driver exodus


Ask anyone who drives a school bus why they do it and we would bet the majority would say for the benefits. That’s why we don’t see a good outcome if Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed cuts to healthcare for bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other “non-certified” school employees is passed by the legislature. 

Freedom of speech: Charlie Hebdo and The Interview

Since December, the world has witnessed two high-profile cases of freedom of speech being played out. First, with The Interview, to a befuddling wince-inducing whimper and, second with the Charlie Hebdo attack, to a violent conclusion.

Make no mistake, freedom of speech must be defended in all instances. And not just for poorly-made movies and scathingly offensive cartoons; and not just for journalists. Freedom of speech is for all the public. The right to criticize government as well as institutions and even churches/religions is fundamental to righting wrongs, furthering democracies and is the underpinning of all other freedoms. If something can’t be expressed openly, then it can’t be protected, corrected, changed or stopped.

Most Americans would be offended by the cartoons that the French newspaper regularly featured. In a particularly French tradition, the people at Charlie Hebdo set out to shock with work that left nothing private or sacred.

Satire can be defended as humor with a purpose. By making readers look from a different perspective, a work that is at first glance only humorous or may lead the reader/viewer to a  deeper understanding or expose an underlying hypocrisy.  Satire dates back to ancient Greece and certainly has a place in modern discourse. Polls show that for political news, Americans under 30 rely on the Daily Show (a “fake” news show”) at about the same rate as network news. The news from host Jon Stewart is real, just with an angle that skewers the subjects.

There is value is satire and occasionally poking a thumb in the eye of the powerful is useful. But, and here’s the “but” that must follow, Muslims weren’t reading Charlie Hebdo. And North Koreans weren’t watching The Interview.

The cartoons were so shocking that rather than engaging any Muslim who might be open to critical thinking, they were immediately repulsed and enraged by the depictions of the prophet Mohammed –much like many of us would be had we seen the cartoons from the same publication depicting Jesus. 

The Interview for those who have forgotten the gist of the story was the comedy movie where two talk show hosts were recruited to kill North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un. Threats of violence were made against any theaters that showed the movie and the computers of Sony Entertainment were hacked. The U.S. government has tied the hackers back to North Korea.

Theaters at first caved in to these demands, but then the movie (likely to the chagrin of those who saw it) was released at some locations and online.

It would have been much easier to champion the directors and studio had the movie been a documentary on conditions in the failed state of North Korea. But the plot is banal. Instead of making shrewd political satire, the movie just makes fun of North Korean people. According to a New York Times article, North Koreans who have watched smuggled copies, found the movie degrading to all their country. 

It’s as hard to defend a movie that heaped ridicule on the most oppressed people on the planet as it is to defend some of Charlie Hebdo’s content.

If North Korea had responded by producing a picture (perhaps called Return of the North Korean) that portrayed The Interview actors Seth Rogen and James Franco as evil incompetents then showed their characters being killed in a degrading manner, it would be fair to group both films together for  a double feature.

While neither Charlie Hebdo nor The Interview are products many of us would choose to champion, not defending their creators’ freedom to speak lessens the protection that any of us may choose to exercise one day. 

Eroding freedoms are a slippery slope and when you allow others to be deprived of anti-religious cartoons today, you find yourself silenced on development issues or taxes or school conditions here in Pickens County in the future.

One final note: Jon Stewart from the Daily Show criticized France for arresting a virulent anti-Semite performer who voiced support for the attacks. Stewart posited that wouldn’t it have been better if his shows were cancelled -- for lack of attendance?


Is middle class the new poor?


It used to be that a middle class family could pay their mortgage each month, pay the electric and water bills, go out to eat and for some entertainment (you know - before movies cost $45 for a family of four). Maybe even a vacation or two each year.

Those days, however, seem to be gone for many who consider themselves middle class.

The middle class is defined as households making between $35,000 and $100,000 a year but those households are shrinking at a quick pace. Recent research showed that 40 percent of American families live off $40,000 or less a year. Comparatively, a U.S. household with four people living off $23,850 or less is considered poor.

Stilettos and skirts, stuck on the sidelines


By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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      In the weeks leading up to the New Year, the subject of football came up at my house. I (a person embarrassingly uninformed about the sport) told my husband if I had to pick a team it would definitely be Alabama – my illogical decision based on nothing more than my dad’s birthplace (Mobile) and my late