We are very early in the year and we have already had 5 outbreaks of measles in the United States. Measles is a disease that is easily prevented with the MMR vaccine that is given to children, the first dose around 1 year of age and followed by a booster. The two doses of the vaccine protect children from Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. We also now have added varicella to this vaccine which will protect against Chicken Pox.
We are fortunate to have access to these vaccines so readily in the United States, this is not the case around the world. The fact that these vaccines are not available in many 3rd world countries is why we have outbreaks. Each of the 5 outbreaks were tracked back to an individual traveling from a country where they were not vaccinated. Those individuals then showed us how contagious and easy to spread the virus to children who have not been vaccinated here in the US. In each of these outbreaks the children infected had not been vaccinated. Think now of O’Hare being the busiest airport in the US and the number of travelers that go thru O’Hare. If any city should be concerned about Vaccination rates, Chicago would be up near the top.
The measles outbreak in Washington State is approaching 60 confirmed cases. Measles is usually the first disease to come back as it is so highly contagious. The bad thing is that although we feel that measles is well controlled here in the US this is not the case worldwide. Measles is still very common in many countries in Africa and Asia, couple that with the large number of international travelers and that the initial symptoms of measles are a cough and runny nose.
Now many of you may be thinking, “so what the children got a rash for a few days and a fever”. Perhaps for the uneducated that is the thought, but we should all know that Measles can go beyond a simple rash and cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death. Before we essentially eliminated measles in the US, we averaged 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths a year from measles alone. That should get the attention of those that are not afraid of measles.
The MMR vaccine also prevents other viruses that can be beyond a simple infection. Mumps can cause infections in the brain and spinal cord and in some cases death. Rubella can cause serious birth defects and miscarriages if a pregnant women is exposed to an individual with Rubella.
Recent studies have shown that vaccinations protect beyond the illnesses that they are designed to stop. A large study done in Ghana showed that vaccinating for measles decreased the child mortality rate even when excluding the deaths due to measles. Said in a different way the vaccination appears to protect children beyond the protection of a single illness. Thoughts are that the child’s immune system is more advanced when exposed to vaccines for childhood illnesses and extends protection to other infections.
Parents who continue to have the thought that vaccines cause autism need to understand that Dr Wakefield’s 1998 fabricated results have been proven false in hundreds of evidence based studies around the world. Dr Wakefield was found guilty of professional misconduct and his license was revoked. Many feel that criminal charges should have been placed as well, as many children died because of his false study results.
Fortunately many states are placing more regulations about the need for vaccination, some may see that as government getting in their personal health space, but many others look at it as known protection for our children.