Measles, Mumps and Seriously?

At 18, I got the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccination a second time.

My vaccination records–which had moved with my family from Miami to Thousand Oaks, CA to Pleasanton, CA to Long Beach, CA , to Pleasanton again and then to Frederick, MD–had a typo. On the records, next to my first MMR, it said 1/1/1989. Exactly two days before I turned one. I’d received a notice from Shippensburg University, after submitting my health records, that I needed to get the MMR shot again before showing up to campus in the fall or file for an exemption.

It didn’t matter that the record was incorrect (whose doctors office is even open on New Years Day for vaccinations?), my Mom called the doctor. Better to be safe than sorry.

This story came to mind this past week as the national conversation about vaccination ramped up following an outbreak originating in Disneyland and spreading now to several western states and Mexico. 58 cases have been linked to the December Disneyland outbreak.

Why is this even an issue? In 2000 the CDC declared that measles had been eliminated from the United States. Elimination “is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area.” This means people traveling abroad may pick up the disease and bring it back, spreading it to unvaccinated communities. And unvaccinated communities have been growing as more and more people claim philosophical and religious reasons for abstaining from immunization.

The Washington Post spoke to a cardiologist-turned-holistic-medicine advocate whose has been making the news circuit denouncing vaccines.

“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”

Facts? Want facts? Okay, the Centers for Disease Control:

And a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children. Besides thimerosal, some people have had concerns about other vaccine ingredients in relation to autism as well. However, no links have been found between any vaccine ingredients and autism.

If that’s too scientific-sounding for you, how about Vox:

So let’s clear that fact up here right now: the measles vaccine is, without a doubt, safe.

So where is this coming from? The New York Times did a nice succinct job of explaining the anti-vaccine movement:

The anti-vaccine movement can largely be traced to a 1998 report in a medical journal that suggested a link between vaccines and autism but was later proved fraudulent and retracted. Today, the waves of parents who shun vaccines include some who still believe in the link and some, like the Amish, who have religious objections to vaccines. Then there is a particular subculture of largely wealthy and well-educated families, many living in palmy enclaves around Los Angeles and San Francisco, who are trying to carve out “all-natural” lives for their children.

I haven’t seen data on this but I’m willing to wager that most of the wealthy parents of these children living “all-natural” lives in California were themselves vaccinated as children.  The Economist is getting at something here:

“In the end,” says Dr Offit, “people don’t get vaccinated because they don’t fear these diseases.” In other words, vaccines are a victim of their own success.

An additional facet of this debate is the disturbing implication that anti-vaccine parents would rather expose their children (and their neighbors children) to a deadly disease than have an autistic child. Regardless of the fact that there is absolutely no link between the MMR and autism, the suggestion that death is preferable to autism is, to say the least deeply troubling.

Incidentally, Shippensburg, which is in south central Pennsylvania–the land of Amish buggies and cornfields–has had a recent measles case.


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