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Medical Misinformation – Anti-Vaccination:

Auckland, New Zealand – The Williams Family

“It’s ironic that when your child is suffering and facing death, you entrust the medical professionals to heal him… but we didn’t trust them with the tetanus vaccine, which would have prevented his suffering in the first place.” – Ian Williams. 

We first met the Williams family when our film crew was researching stories of online medical misinformation.  Though we uncovered dozens of heartbreaking stories due to anti-vaxx conspiracies, the Williams’ stole our hearts. Ian and Linda turned around their son’s life-threatening event in a way that uses the experience for good. 

Our crew set their sights and travel plans on the family’s home in the Waitakere Mountains – located outside of Auckland, on New Zealand’s northern tip. 

Background:  In 1998, Doctor Andrew Wakefield and 12 of his colleagues published a case series in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, which suggested measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines may predispose children to behavioral disorders and even autism.  It was that autism link that most frightened Linda and Ian Williams.  The paper received global publicity, leading to parents’ skepticism whether they should subject their children to “jab” risks.  Vaccination rates declined worldwide.  According to the National Institute of Health, rates of preventable diseases like measles rose:

Wakefield failed to disclose his potential financial gain through lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies who manufacture vaccines. The doctor was held guilty of ethical violations and scientific misrepresentation.  The Lancet followed up by publishing a small paragraph retracting the article.  Eventually, 10 of the 12 co-authors retracted their words, saying there was “no causal link established between MMR vaccine and autism due to insufficient data”.   Regardless of the retraction, and public statements from health leaders – even Microsoft’s Bill Gates chimed in – measles cases hit a 23-year high in 2020, killing 200,000 as vaccinations stalled, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):  

The Wakefield fraud is likely to go down as one of the most serious frauds in medical history. Unfortunately, the discredited and deregistered Wakefield is still hailed by the anti-vaxx conspiracy community. 

After reading Wakefield’s paper on the internet, parent Linda Williams “… genuinely believed it was unsafe to vaccinate.  I wouldn’t even consider injecting my children with anything, because I believed it would cause damage and harm in them.”  Video of Williams’ family story from “Trust Me”: 

“If you care about your children, then you are a group that can be targeted.”  – Jestin Coler, fake news creator.

After getting a small cut in his foot, the Williams’ family young son, Alisha contracts tetanus, or “lockjaw”, which is an infection caused by bacteria that get into the body through cuts or scratches.  The bacteria then produce a toxin causing painful muscle contractions, and death.  It causes a person’s muscles in his neck and jaw to lock, obstructing their airway.  Once Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital diagnosed Tetanus, doctors and nurses performed life-saving measures. They induced coma to alleviate Alisha’s suffering, which included muscle spasms hard enough to break his bones, a locking jaw that threatened his airway, and biting through his tongue.  The family didn’t know “…whether he was going to live or die.”

“We knew the tetanus that Alisha was going through was caused by our ignorance.  It was our fault.  This was a totally preventable disease.  We could have prevented this.  I failed miserably as a parent.  I thought by not vaccinating, it was the safest, but now I know the safest thing I could have done was to vaccinate my children against totally preventable diseases… once you get something like tetanus, measles, mumps… your body must go through it. There is no cure. The guilt and shame we are still going though… is immense.” – Linda Williams

“When your son’s in a coma with a chance of dying, it occurs to you that you could have gotten more accurate information.”  Said Ian.  “Alijah is recovering well. After three weeks in intensive care, he gradually came out of it.  They gave him less and less drugs and his nerves started to heal. When he came out of sedation, Alijah had to learn to walk, talk, and eat again.”

Linda and Ian now travel the world bringing awareness of the scientific truth of vaccines… how vaccines save millions of lives, prevent suffering, and death from preventable diseases.

“It’s often said that vaccines save lives, but this statement is not 100% true; it is vaccination that saves lives. A vaccine that remains in the vial is 0% effective even if it is the best vaccine in the world.” – National Academy of Sciences. Vaccinations not only save our own lives but protect others whom we may have passed along disease without even knowing it. 

Interestingly, this chain of human-to-human transmission can be stopped, even without a 100% vaccination rate, because people do not have infinite contacts. This is called “herd immunity” or “community protection,” and is an important benefit of vaccination.  Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the amount of vaccine misinformation has topped 500 websites, according to Newsguard’s Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center. “It’s become virtually impossible for people to tell the difference between a generally reliable site and an untrustworthy site.” Says Gordon Crovitz, co-founder. 

More and more, we need to double, and triple check our sources before sharing misinformation that is potentially life threatening.  The longer and farther Covid misinformation spreads, the faster it can mutate, and our herd immunity is no longer protection for our communities.

The good news?  It was 166 years after the first case of polio was identified before Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.   Amazingly, we now live in a world in which science has made possible the manufacture of vaccines in less than a year.  This.  Is.  Progress.