Anna Watson is the founder, we are told, of the Arnica network, which believes in a & # 39; holistic approach to health & # 39;
Anna Watson is not the kind of woman you would expect to be accused of endangering young lives.
She is a highly respected primary school teacher who lives in the prosperous London suburb of Kingston-upon-Thames with her businessman, their two children aged 13 and 15 and the family dog.
In her free time, Mrs Watson (53) also takes care of the assignment. She is also a camper enthusiast. The details of her comfortable middle class life are listed on her Twitter profile.
However, one entry is worth further investigation. She is, we are told, the founder of the Arnica network, which believes in a & # 39; holistic approach to health & # 39 ;.
What this means in practice is that Mrs. Watson and a growing number of people like her are against vaccinations; vaccinations, in particular the MMR vaccine.
Ms. Watson is even behind one of a number of groups that are the driving force behind one of Britain's largest online anti-immunization movements.
Arnica has 37,000 members and the comments (around 100,000 a month) are a mix of inadequate science and cherry-picked data.
An employee advises: & # 39; Any illness can be treated with homeopathic remedies, bed rest and fluids. & # 39;
Next to the hashtag #DeathfromVaccines is a picture of a child who is now dead, we are told.
The World Health Organization decided to withdraw Britain's status as a measles-free country. Last year there were 966 cases, almost four times as many as in 2017
The photo of another young person is accompanied by the message: & # 39; Sorry doc, if you want to inject your poison into me made by a pharmaceutical company that only makes a profit when I get sick, you don't have to make decisions about my health. & # 39;
Miss Watson, 53, claims that research has shown that countries requiring more vaccine doses often have higher infant mortality rates.
No mention of clear evidence to the contrary that public health changed in the 20th century due to the availability and use of vaccines.
Few conspiracy theories have played so well in the era of & # 39; fake news & # 39; than the anti-vaccine lobby, which found fertile ground in the internet age.
Some of the most prominent theories still revolve around discredited research by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former NHS consultant who caused a global public health fear 20 years ago by linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
Like many news organizations, this newspaper dealt with its first research, published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet, with all seriousness and advocated for parents to have a choice whether to vaccinate their children with individual vaccinations instead of the combined MMR.
Some parents went even further and chose not to have their children vaccinated at all.
Wakefield's findings turned out to be & # 39; completely untrue & # 39; and after a four-year investigation concluded in 2010, the GMC closed him off the medical register and accused him of & # 39; discrediting the medical profession & # 39 ;.
But amazingly enough, two decades later, the appetite for its defective findings is greater than ever. Wakefield, 62, now lives in the US, but his influence in Britain has never been stronger.
Two Facebook groups with more than 20,000 members become & # 39; Team Wakefield & # 39; and & # 39; Dr. Wakefield & # 39; s Work Must Continue & # 39; called.
The populist agenda that followed the publication of his research – that there has been a sinister cover-up by the medical institution and the pharmaceutical industry to hide the dangers of vaccinations – has received such a boost that Boris Johnson this week intervened.
& # 39; I'm afraid people on the internet have listened to superstitious mumbo jumbo and think the MMR vaccine is a bad idea, & # 39; said the prime minister during a visit to a hospital in Cornwall. & # 39; That's wrong, have your children vaccinated. & # 39;
His plea reflected calls from the health secretary and the head of the NHS, following the decision of the World Health Organization to withdraw Britain's status as a measles country.
Mrs. Watson is behind one of a number of groups that are the driving force behind one of Britain's largest online anti-immunization movements. A member of Arnica contributed this meme
Last year there were 966 cases, almost four times as in 2017 – a shocking, shameful development largely due to the revival of the discredited views of Wakefield.
Much of the anti-vaccine nonsense on social media includes his videos and material.
They all seem to bypass the proven scientific fact of not vaccinating your child – what doctors have compared to & # 39; driving without putting them in the safety belt & # 39; – can switch off or even be fatal, exposing young people to the risk of potentially life-threatening complications such as meningitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and deafness.
Children need two vaccinations to fully protect against the disease. The uptake rate for the first is 92 percent, but it drops to 87 percent for the second, one of the worst in the developed world and far below the 95 percent immunity target needed to protect the population against disease.
It means that one in seven children attending primary school in the fall is not fully protected against measles – rising to one in four in London.
Behind the statistics there is a significant demography. NHS data reveal that measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) uptake rates have fallen in some of the richest areas such as Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster, but have increased or remained stable in places such as Barnsley, Bolton and Oldham.
The findings are in line with earlier research showing that online anti-vaccination posts were most likely written and shared by middle-class people.
People like Anna Watson, who said she felt no responsibility for the choice of parents. & # 39; I wouldn't feel guilty if (their children) got an illness & # 39 ;, she told the Mail.
& # 39; It's not my decision & # 39 ;, adds: & # 39; You can't talk about certain minority groups in certain ways, but you can say anti-vaccines have blood on their hands. & # 39 ;
Her is not the only online group that likes to travel steadily over what the scientific community regards as incorrect information. Others include & # 39; Vaccine Truth & # 39; (62,000 followers), & # 39; Beware the Needle & # 39; (38,000) and & # 39; Vaccines Uncovered (57,000).
They tell us & # 39; Vaccines cause brain damage & # 39 ;. . . & # 39; Unvaccinated children are healthier & # 39 ;. . . & # 39; It's not about health. It's about money, power and control & # 39 ;. . . and (Wakefield) & # 39; deserve our respect and admiration & # 39 ;.
It is not surprising that the man himself is a big fan of social media & # 39 ;, who has developed beautifully & # 39 ;, he said recently and explained that it had offered an alternative to the shortcomings of the regular media & # 39 ;.
The truth is that it has provided a platform for its discredited theories to remain undisputed, such as the risk of & # 39; horizontal transfer & # 39 ;, which he believes results in a vaccinated person infecting an unvaccinated person.
The Facebook groups to his name were founded by Janette Robb, a retired primary school teacher.
Her 40-year-old son is autistic and has spent several years in psychiatric hospitals. She blames his condition on the MMR vaccination he had at the age of 15, but admitted: & # 39; of course I have no proof & # 39 ;.
Mrs. Robb, 77, speaking from her home in Dunbartonshire, said: & Wakefield's investigation was poor because it did not match the establishment. I read that if every autistic child received compensation, the country would perish. It's too late to save my son, but I could save someone else's. & # 39;
She reiterated the claim that half of all children online will be autistic by 2025. & # 39; What will the country look like when they grow up? & # 39; she asked.
& # 39; It gives me nightmares. & # 39;
Immunization skepticism, which is the polite way to express it, is not only limited to the internet.
Dr. Richard Halvorsen, a GP in London for more than 20 years, is the medical director of a private clinic called BabyJabs.
In 2012, he was forced to remove a post on the BabyJabs website that claimed that the MMR vaccine could cause & # 39; autism in up to 10 percent of UK children & # 39; after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it was an unfounded claim.
Dr. Halvorsen said this week that he was standing by his claim of a likely link. & # 39; There are many parents who swear that their little boy developed completely normal until they received the MMR vaccine and then declined within a short period of time and are convinced that the MMR is to blame.
& # 39; Parents know their children fairly well. Some may be mistaken, but I find it hard to believe that they are all wrong. Maybe so, but I think it's unlikely. But that is not hard evidence. I accept that. & # 39;
On the other hand, there is hard evidence of what can happen if a child is not immunized. Little Alba Moss got measles because she was too young for her first dose of the MMR vaccine and spent ten painful days in the hospital earlier this year, with eyes usually swollen.
She received tube feeding, got an IV and pumped full of medicines. At one point her parents thought she would not survive. The staff at Chelsea And Westminster Hospital encouraged them to post Alba photos on Facebook to warn parents of the potential consequences of not having their children vaccinated.
The kickback of & # 39; anti-vaxxers & # 39; Alba & # 39; s pathetic photo immediately began. & # 39; I have never witnessed hatred, & # 39; her mother Jilly Moss, 35, told the Mail. & # 39; They said it & # 39; fake news & # 39; was and Alba was a doll. My husband was accused of working for a pharmaceutical company (he is actually in banking) and that we got paid to spread the story.
& # 39; What is going on in these anti-vax groups is incredible. How can people be so ignorant? & # 39;
In the UK, all vaccines undergo a rigorous development process and testing that can last 20 years, and the science is clear: there is no link between the MMR puncture and autism. This was the unambiguous finding of the latest study by Danish researchers who followed 650,000 young people for ten years.
Dozens of studies have come to that conclusion. Yet the anti-vaccine movement is increasing at a pace here.
& # 39; We are still suffering from the completely negated MMR scandal of the 1990s and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to serious, often life-threatening infectious diseases such as measles, & # 39; said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, president of the Royal College of GPs.
Wakefield & # 39; s discredited claims got a new boost with the increase from Donald Trump to the White House. Anti-vaccine rhetoric was a common theme in his campaign. Trump even met Wakefield – who has a relationship with the super model Elle Macpherson.
Wakefield has been involved with several companies that have questioned the safety of the vaccine (£ 250,000 with one by £ 220,000 by another) since his arrival in the US in 2001 and is a much sought-after speaker. At a recent event, the audience got up and shouted: & # 39; We love you & # 39 ;.
His latest & # 39; finding & # 39; is that vaccines have created a more powerful measles strain. And an upcoming lecture has the title: & # 39; Man, Measles and Make-believe & # 39; – and the blurb claims that it separates & # 39; fact and fiction in the measles debate & # 39 ;.
But the only debate is between discredited individuals such as Wakefield and his followers, and all others; between science fiction and scientific fact.
His last claim will be perceived by some in Britain as a gospel.
A statement on Anna Watson's Arnica Facebook page seems like the dangerous madness that takes root: & # 39; The unvaccinated child may be healthier than the vaccinated child. & # 39;
Additional reporting: Tim Stewart
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