This year, our country has seen the highest incidence of measles 16 outbreaks and almost 500 reported cases since the year 2000 when the infection was declared eradicated in the U.S. And the reason for this resurgence is that parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated against preventable childhood infections, such as measles despite the fact that the CDC reports that measles kills more infants and children than any other vaccine-preventable contagion.
In 1966, when scientists developed the measles vaccine, their goal was to get vaccination rates up to at least 95 percent, ensuring herd immunity or community immunity. However, three decades later, Dr. Andrew Wakefield came into the picture, with his false claims that vaccines cause autism, and the vaccination rate in the US plummeted. Despite the fact that the Lancet retracted his original study citing fraudulent data, and years later Wakefield s scheme to financially benefit from this fraud was thoroughly exposed, the damage was done.
Perversely, despite the exquisitely detailed investigation that uncovered this unseemly matter, Wakefield s fervent supporters continue to this day to trumpet his message. And now we find ourselves in our current situation, with measles once again emerging as a public health threat.
Not only do vaccines have nothing to do with autism, but the often-told stories about serious reactions and illnesses from vaccines are also wrong. Most recently, a review of more than 20,000 scientific studies, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, came to exactly these conclusions. The review highlights the fact that adverse reactions to vaccines are rare, though they do exist. For example, the meningococcal vaccine could result in anaphylaxis, a whole body allergic reaction, if the child is allergic to the vaccine ingredients.
The review also found that Americans are living about 30 years longer on average and infant mortality has decreased from 100 deaths per 1000 to 7 deaths per 1000 infants between the 1900s and 2000, to a significant extent as a result of vaccines.
Also, as parents choose not to vaccinate their children and these vaccine-preventable diseases re-emerge, another problem has arisen. Patients and their doctors do not know how to identify measles, because it has been absent for quite some time. According to Dr. Julia Sammons, medical director of infection prevention and control at the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia, We have a whole generation of physicians who have never seen measles. You re not going to make the diagnosis or make efforts to control spread if it's not on your radar screen.
Dr. Pauline Chen, writing in the NY Times, sums it up: When it comes to public health, bad personal choices can have potentially devastating effects on others.
ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan adds, We ve been saying over and over how important vaccines are in order to ensure that vaccine-preventable diseases do not re-emerge. Yet, it seems that Andrew Wakefield has been successful in his attempt to put the health of our nation in danger. The takeaway message is that while acknowledging the infrequent minor adverse reactions and thankfully rare severe allergic reactions to vaccines doctors must ensure that their patients are aware that vaccines are safe and effective and refusing to vaccinate one s children is putting our whole country at risk.