The pre-1960s-style measles outbreak in Wales has been hot in the news media since the beginning of April. The numbers of sick, including some adults, is rising still.
Thousands of children have been diagnosed with the generally mild and easily preventable disorder throughout the region, spreading outward from Swansea in south Wales. UK immunization specialist Dr. David Elliman has said that the outbreak is likely to spread to the City of London and other major zones of Great Britain. The United Kingdom is on high alert.
But with the outbreak having stoked a re-emergent vaccine “debate,” and both sides hastily disparaging the other, it could be useful to fairly assess what each has to say—sans vitriol—and to ask the question: are we leaving out a critical component?
The Nine-Day Measles
The measles is a highly contagious short-term viral infection that produces various symptoms including fever, sore throat, hacking cough, and white sores known as Koplik spots inside the mouth. The most noticeable symptom is a recognizable skin rash that begins in front of and below the ears and spreads down the neck and back and finally down the trunk and legs in raised, irregular, and red patches.
The symptoms are uncomfortable but are generally not fatal. About one in 1000-2000 victims dies because of the virus.
Before the 1960s, however, the numbers of dead globally from measles, mumps, and rubella was the highest in history, the epidemic becoming so widespread that many communities viewed a bout of potentially fatal measles as an inevitability. Much like polio, there was no defense against a disease that targeted children almost exclusively.
Up to the late 20th century, measles was widespread throughout Africa and the global south such that it was the leading cause of global blindness. The greatest measles success story is the United States, it being the only country to have effectively eradicated the measles by the year 2000.
On the One Hand
Since the introduction of the vaccine in the 1960s, the only time that there was an uptick in measles cases globally was in the 1980s and early 1990s when thousands of people came down with the measles in the U.S. despite the fact that they had been vaccinated. There were 123 dead. With the introduction of the second dose of the MMR vaccine, given additionally after ten years for children and after 28 days for adults, the measles was eliminated fully in the U.S. and reduced globally from 1 million to less than 168,000 measles-related deaths per year. Most of the deaths from measles that still occur today are in Africa and the global south.
The vaccine is simple, easy to understand, contains no mercury or other toxins, and has been shown time and again to have no association with the cause or potential causes of retardation or autism.
The vaccine only contains an “attenuated” or even a killed version of the virus itself. When the immune system finds these cells it not only eliminates them, but “remembers” them, thus strengthening the immune response against a much stronger attack at any time in the future. Indeed, those who have been through a bout of the measles or chicken pox have effectively been “naturally” vaccinated from the disease and will not contract it again.
Medical scientists and researchers say that because of the refusal for vaccine uptake and the sensationalization of “threats” associated with the dose, measles numbers have gone up in Africa and Europe. Japan and China, not suffering from any lobbying efforts or attempts to falsely associate the vaccine with autism, have seen their measles numbers drop consistently and remain low. There have been no deaths or autism diagnoses associated with the vaccine in Asia.
On the Other Hand
Many parents feel that the vaccine doses, sometimes given in ten, twenty, or more at a time, are potentially harmful and invasive for their child. Although the lies that are spread about the “dangers” of the vaccine only add an unnecessary sense of urgency to the feelings of concerned parents, the sense of distrust and suspicion is real—and perhaps legitimate.
It often happens that an infant given a large number of shots will react with fever or fussy behavior, or general malaise. This is common and, after a short period, goes away. Vaccination-weary parents generally do not insist on abstinence from vaccines altogether, but only express a legitimate concern that so many shots at once is upsetting for the child and parent. And since the timing of the doses does not matter for the effectiveness of the vaccine, an easy solution could be to stagger the shots to the parent’s liking.
The shot schedule does not affect the effectiveness of the vaccines and, given the concerns raised by many parents, it should be adjusted for the emotional and psychological comfort of the parents. However, the vaccine does not cause mental problems or other conditions of any kind, although it does—on a rare occasion—actually fail to produce immunity in the human body.
But there is another consideration in terms of the measles-related death rate: poverty. Any physician knows that a case of the measles for a healthy and well-nourished child is very rarely fatal and that the studies still show that close to all of the deaths from measles occur in economically depressed areas suffering increased poverty rates, joblessness, and scarce access to healthy food.
Any death in Europe from the measles ought to take that element of the discussion into serious consideration: a measles death is really a poverty-related fatality. Since the recession in 2008, the number of homeless children has gone up and the income gap has widened greatly across the UK, Europe, and the US.
We suggest that anyone who hasn’t gotten the shot go get vaccinated immediately. The harmless injection, even in large doses, represents no physical danger and has never been associated with anything but a lowered fatality rate. Any death in the UK or Europe from the measles should be seen as a failure of the social system and government, not of the medical industry or vaccination program.
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