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Home » Measles is vaccine-preventable, yet it is coming back

Measles is vaccine-preventable, yet it is coming back


Measles is entirely prevented with a very safe and very effective vaccine. Then why on earth are we dealing with it again? Why are we seeing it in so many places?

The answers are quite complicated, but they focus on a lack of knowledge about measles and the myths about the measles vaccine. I want to address both of these issues head-on. If the vaccination levels drop, the risk of measles continues to increase, increasing the incidence of disease complications.

Let’s take a look at measles and the vaccine. Again. Maybe one person will read this article and decide to vaccinate their child against this dangerous disease. And they will save their child’s life.

girl getting vaccinated
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Measles and the measles vaccine

Because we haven’t had massive measles outbreaks for decades, and because the disease is quite rare (thanks to the measles vaccine), there is no memory of the disease among today’s parents. I guess if we asked 100 parents about measles, most wouldn’t even know what it is. And those that do would just say it’s nothing more than a little rash.

Well, it is much more than a little rash.

In 1958, 763,094 people in the USA contracted measles, the highest number of cases in a single year. In 1963, when the measles vaccine became available, parents jumped at the chance to have their children vaccinated. Viewed as a miracle, the vaccine reduced measles cases by 95% over the next 5 years; by 2000, the disease was declared eliminated in the USA.

Measles (rubeola, not to be confused with rubella or German measles) is a respiratory disease caused by the Measles morbillivirus. This virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. 

The virus is spread through respiration (contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose and mouth, either directly or through aerosol transmission). It is highly contagious — 90% of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person will catch it.

Infected individuals can spread measles up to four days before and four days after a rash appears.

There are no specific treatments for the disease. And there are no miracle preventions, except the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella). The first dose is usually given at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination. The immunity from the vaccine lasts a lifetime.

The MMR vaccine is an attenuated (weakened) live virus vaccine. This means that after injection, the viruses cause a harmless infection in the vaccinated person with very few, if any, symptoms before they are eliminated from the body. The person’s immune system fights the infection caused by these weakened viruses, and long-term immunity against the virus develops.

To be clear, children under 12 months are not vaccinated against measles and are the most susceptible to catching the disease. And if there are lots of kids not vaccinated against the disease, they could spread it to the newborn anywhere — a grocery store, a pediatrician’s office, a park, or even at home.

emergency signage
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Measles complications

Again, measles is not a simple rash that the child (or sometimes adults) survive quickly and easily. According to the CDC, about 30% of measles cases develop one or more complications. Here are some of the most serious:

  • Pneumonia is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
  • Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
  • Diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases.
  • As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia.
  • About 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness, and other long-term neurological deficits.
  • A measles infection can result in short- and long-term immune system dysfunction which can leave the child susceptible to other diseases early in life (which is in direct opposition to claims by anti-vaccine activists that it helps “boost” the immune system).
  • About 1-2 children, out of 1000 who contract measles, may develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare chronic, progressive encephalitis that affects primarily children and young adults– it is caused by a persistent infection of the measles virusThe disease starts with measles infection, usually before the age of 2 years, followed by approximately 6-15 asymptomatic years. Some researchers think the asymptomatic period is around 5-8 years after the initial disease. The disease gradually progresses with psychological and neurological deterioration, including personality changes, seizures, and coma. It is always ultimately fatal.
  • And sadly, for every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.

Measles is much more dangerous than most people think. I’m not here for fear-mongering – but real science tells us that measles is a dangerous, debilitating disease that has both short and long-term consequences. It is not “just a rash.”

Even in the USA, where nearly 91% of children have received their measles vaccinations, there are large groups of children who may be vulnerable to the disease. As I mentioned above, children under the age of 12 months are not vaccinated and are therefore the most susceptible (and are most at risk of serious complications). Moreover, although the MMR vaccine is very effective, up to 7% of those children who received their measles vaccinations may not be immune.

measles vaccine
Credit: AP Photo/NBC’s Today Show

Measles vaccine safety

Measles vaccination levels have been dropping since the late 1990s probably because of one person — the cunning fraud, Mr. Andrew Wakefield, who tried to link the MMR vaccine to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in a paper published in the journal Lancet. The study was fraudulent, and the paper was subsequently retracted.

If you want to read all about Wakefield’s despicable deceit (and unethical study design), you can read about it in a series of articles written by award-winning journalist Brian Deer and published in the British Medical Journal (now known as theBMJ), a respected peer-reviewed publication. Mr. Deer has even written a book detailing his investigation of Wakefield and his fraudulent research called, “The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines.”

In case you were wondering, over 160 published studies show that there is no link between the vaccine and autism – this is settled science.

So the “measles vaccine causes autism” claim was made up and invented by Wakefield. Real science had to invest billions of dollars for research into these false claims (money that could have been used to help parents with autistic children), only to show that there is no link between any vaccine, including for measles, and autism.

Unfortunately, this claim lives on with numerous anti-vaccine shills like Steve Kirsch and Robert F Kennedy Jr, despite the lack of evidence supporting their claims and the overwhelming evidence dismissing their claims.

Another safety issue for the measles vaccine that is often pushed in anti-vaccine claims is that the vaccine causes seizures. This is not entirely true. Very rarely, a child who receives the vaccine may experience febrile seizures. These are minor and temporary, usually caused by an elevated temperature as a result of the immune reaction to the vaccine. Again, febrile seizures after the measles vaccine are extremely rare (estimated to be from 1 per 1700 to 1 per 1150 administered doses) and are temporary with no long-term complications.

This study shows that the MMR vaccine is extraordinarily safe.

Summary

Measles is making a slow but steady comeback in many countries, including the USA. Despite the beliefs of many people, measles is not a minor rash, it is a tragic disease that can debilitate or even kill little children. It is not a trivial disease, despite the outrageous claims of the anti-vaccine world.

The way to prevent measles is with a simple, safe, and highly effective vaccine. There is no evidence to contradict those facts.

Citations

Michael Simpson

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