Recent headlines about the resurgence of mumps on college campuses and surrounding areas in the Midwest should serve to remind us all of the importance of vaccinations. With more than 815 cases reported to date, the Center for Disease Control has advised that this is the largest outbreak of mumps in the past twenty years.
Mumps, viewed primarily as a childhood disease, is a flu-like viral infection that causes swelling of the neck and chin and usually lasts five to ten days. The introduction of a vaccine in 1967 for measles, mumps, and rubella, which is administered in two doses, has controlled outbreaks of this disease in recent years. But our success in combating this and other diseases through vaccinations has made some Americans complacent about the importance of vaccinations and immunizations, believing that mumps and other communicable, sometimes deadly diseases of the past have been eradicated.
One important lesson to learn from this recent outbreak is that vaccines have played a major role in controlling disease in our nation (see ACSH’s report). That is why the resurgence of such a common disease of the past is viewed as an aberration. And while most of the individuals exposed in this outbreak had been vaccinated against it, there is speculation that some students showing symptoms of the mumps had received only one of the two recommended doses of the vaccine. One dose is projected to have an 80% efficacy against the disease, whereas the double dosage is 90% effective. Officials at the CDC have indicated, however, that the outbreak could have been worse, noting that if we didn’t have a high rate of two-dose coverage, we’d be seeing thousands of cases, or tens of thousands of cases.
We should not become lax and heed the unwarranted and misdirected calls of some anti-vaccine advocates to abandon immunization of children based on hypothetical or minuscule side effects dangers, with the real risks from outbreaks of known, deadly, and communicable diseases always lurking. Parents should seek science-based information about the benefits and risks of vaccinations and consider what real risks they assume by not vaccinating their children — and in general should think carefully before jumping on the bandwagon and attacking a proven, useful technology or pharmaceutical that has contributed to our high quality of life.
With our good health ought to come a sense of responsibility that we not become short-sighted about the scientific achievements that have made our wellbeing possible.