Recently The Wall Street Journal reported on an epidemic of measles affecting children in the United Kingdom and on an outbreak close to home at a church in Texas.
From November 2012 to July 2013 there has been 1,219 cases of measles in southwest Wales, as compared to only 105 cases the year before. About 10% of affected patients were admitted to the hospital with complications such as dehydration and pneumonia. A 25 year-old died.
In August, 21 children and adults from the Eagle Mountain International Church, 30 miles north of Fort Worth, contracted measles. The church’s Senior Pastor had expressed a concern that the MMR immunizations were causing autism and so many children who were home-schooled or in the church’s daycare did not receive the standard measles vaccinations required by Texas public schools and day care centers.
How can this happen, knowing the existence of a highly effective vaccine since 1960?
How can the incidence of measles increase when the majority of developed countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, consider the disease “eliminated”, and the only new cases are those imported from other countries where measles is still prevalent?
The story starts in 1998, when a group of investigators, leaded by Dr. Andrew Wakefield of the London Royal Free Hospital, published a paper in the prestigious medial magazine The Lancet, suggesting a relationship between the Measles-Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and the increasing incidence of autism in children. According to his conclusions, the measles vaccine, when administered in combination, could cause alterations in the immune system that later translate into neurological deficits such as autism. The article describes cases of normal children who, after suffering gastrointestinal symptoms, develop neurological deterioration and autism.
The press echoed these fears and soon other media outlets published opinions from all sources, some with clear desire of notoriety, such as the actress Jenny McCarthy. All joined efforts to spread fear in parents who, always desiring to protect their children, refused to immunize their kids.
Fifteen years later we are seeing the consequences of those decision and, of course, nobody is taking responsibility.
Immediately after the release of the article in The Lancet, medical researchers on both sides of the Atlantic started looking into the possibility of a link between vaccines and autism, warning parents and patients that what was published in Dr. Wakefield’s article was based on incomplete information and, to that moment, only speculation, stressing the importance of vaccines to prevent disease.
The results of the investigation confirmed what we already knew: there is no link between the MMR vaccine, or any other immunization, and autism. The US Institute of Medicine made it official in 2004 in a report declaring the lack of evidence. The full history of this controversy can be found on Wikipedia.
The Lancet was forced to publish a revision, after the General Medical Council of Health in The United Kingdom revoked Dr. Wakefield’s medical license.
Measles is an infectious disease, very contagious, caused by a virus. It produces symptoms of fever, cough and a rash. The majority of patients recover without consequences, but others suffer pneumonia and even death, with an incidence of 1 in 1,000 cases.
When evaluating the repercussions of a “world without vaccines”, like some groups desire, we must consider the impact on the weakest individuals – those with a debilitated or incomplete immune system such as children and the elderly; patients with chronic disorders and those undergoing chemotherapy. They are the main beneficiaries of the immunizations efforts in developed countries; creating fewer “hosts” for the virus which create less possibilities of contracting the disease.
Parents today have a difficult task when making decisions for their children. The best source of information is always a panel of experts, rather than individual opinions or anecdotal cases. For more information about MMR, autism or any other diseases affecting children, I always encourage parents to consult the American Academy of Pediatrics for the most complete and up-to-date information.
If your child is not current on their immunizations. I encourage you to make an appointment today. Please do not gamble with your child’s health or those around you who may have weakened immune systems.