by Michaela Kwoka-Coleman
By now, news of the December/January measles outbreak has made headlines on every media outlet throughout the country. The most recent outbreak, which originated with a tourist in Disneyland, has sparked a controversial debate regarding vaccinations, primarily for children.
As of 2000, measles was declared largely eradicated within the United States as a result of the availability of the measles vaccine (M.M.R). Currently is is believed that patient zero for the Disneyland outbreak was an unvaccinated person who contracted the disease while traveling abroad (measles is still very common in other countries). Previous years have seen measles outbreaks as well, the most widespread being in2014; there were 23 reported outbreaks that year, with one large outbreak which infected 383 people, mainly unvaccinated members of the Amish community.
So why is there such controversy surrounding the vaccination for this highly contagious disease? Essentially the misguided concern revolves around an untrue potential side effect of the vaccine. In 1998 a British study suggested a direct relationship between the measles vaccine and autism. The publication of this study in the medical journal, The Lancet, obviously scared many parents and created the common consensus that the vaccination was not worth the possible development of childhood autism. However, in 2010 the same medical journal which published the story redacted it after further research found the findings to not be significant. Yet the damage had already been done.
Many parents are still fearful the the M.M.R vaccine (which is actually a combination vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella) will create health problems for their children. This is a primary result of parents who testify that their child's autism developed after receiving the vaccination, despite the numerous scientific studies which have concluded no correlation between the vaccine and autism.
Now, as news of the most recent outbreak made headlines across the country, many parents voiced their opinions on the vaccination. One such parent is Tim Jacks, a pediatrician from Phoenix, Arizona. In his open letter “To the Parents of the Unvaccinated Child Who Exposed My Family to Measles”, Jacks makes a compelling argument in favor of vaccinating children. First, Jacks reiterates the findings of the scientific community- there is no relation between autism and the M.M.R vaccine. Next, Jacks relates the risk that parents of unvaccinated children pose on the community: “...about 3 percent of fully vaccinated children do not develop a lasting immune response. They have low blood titers and are not protected against measles. If exposed, this group will likely get the illness. I am in this group. I was thankfully not exposed. Third, we have the unvaccinated. My son, Eli, is 10 months old. He is too young to received the M.M.R vaccine and thus has no protection. Whether by refusal or because they are too young, exposed unvaccinated children have a 90% chance of getting measles. Fourth, there are children like my Maggie. These are children who can't be vaccinated. Children who have cancer. Children who are immunocompromised. Children who are truly allergic to a vaccine or part of a vaccine. These children remain at risk. They cannot be protected, except by vaccinating people around them”.
While measles will gradually become a less relevant topic as the outbreak dies down, the risk will always remain. It is time to move past the boogeyman idea of the measles vaccine leading to autism and face the truth the unvaccinated people pose large risks to the rest of the population, mainly those who cannot receive the vaccine. For more information on the measles and the M.M.R vaccine, go to the CDC website.
Here you can find all of our articles up to 2018.