Way Beyond Wakefield: Facing The Facts About Measles

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Vaccine proponents love Andrew Wakefield. Really, they do. Andrew Wakefield gives them a scapegoat. Every time the subject of vaccine side effects comes up or when there is an outbreak of measles, vaccine proponents can bring up Andrew Wakefield, talk about how the medical community has claimed his research was fraudulent and call him a good-for-nothing scoundrel.

In their minds, Andrew Wakefield seems to be the only thing standing in the way of vaccination being recognized as a panacea, so if they discredit him, all arguments against vaccines can be discredited. You’ve seen this with recent alleged cases of measles in New York. Bring up Andrew Wakefield and the discussion is over, vaccines win.

Here is something vaccine proponents don’t know about parents who refuse the measles vaccine: The reasons we are refusing the measles vaccine go beyond Andrew Wakefield. Way, way beyond Wakefield.

First of all, the moral character or repudiated research of one scientist can not be enough to dismiss all claims against vaccination, just as the moral character or repudiated research of one scientist is not enough to dismiss a particular vaccine entirely. For example, Louis Pasteur told his family never to release his lab notebooks to the public. He had good reason, because when they were released they showed that he often deliberately misrepresented his work to the public and his peers. And even the revered Jonas Salk experimented with vaccines on mental patients who were unable to give consent to what was being done to them. But these facts alone are not enough to discredit our usage of the rabies and polio vaccines, we would need more evidence support that stance. (But more on that in other posts…)

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why we’re all so worried about measles? When faced with this questions, most Americans simply parrot back what they have heard before: “Measles killed lots of people before a vaccine was found. Vaccines save lives!” The truth is that before the measles vaccine was introduced, most people in developed countries lived perfectly normal and healthy lives despite measles and that it wasn’t the vaccine that saved humanity. Take a look at the facts:

  • The 1953 report from the office of Vital Statistics shows that measles deaths were approximately 13 per 100,000 in 1918 for an estimated population of 103, 208,000. But by by 1950, measles deaths had fallen far below 1 in 100,000. This report states that while infectious diseases like diphtheria, measles and whooping cough were responsible for 242.6 per 100,000 deaths in children under 15 in the early twentieth century, by 1950 these diseases combined accounted for only 5 deaths per 100,000 for children under 15. Take note that the measles vaccine was not introduced until 1963. (MMR became available in 1971  and the DTP vaccine started mass usage in 1948.) Ironically enough, this report is glowing with optimism about the state of health in America, while we perceive this to be a time of rampant disease and death. Yet, we live in a time where we have vaccines for almost every disease, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes and parents are constantly in fear of the next virus or bacterial infection.
  • In America, the argument often goes that we don’t want to return to a time when measles was endemic as this would be a serious public health threat. Measles is endemic in many countries- first, second and third world. In 2008 measles was declared endemic in the United Kingdom after supposedly being eliminated (Supposedly because of Wakefield’s study.) Switzerland is often cited as the source of many American measles outbreaks because the disease is endemic there. Measles outbreaks have been ongoing in Israel for several years. Canada, Japan and the Netherlands also have had several outbreaks of measles. However, first world countries where measles outbreaks remain common actually have higher rankings for health and life expectancy than those of the United States.  The United States ranks 42nd in the world for life expectancy while the UK ranks 29th,  Switzerland ranks 8th, Israel 19th, Canada 14th, Japan 3rd, and the Netherlands 22nd. Reports of deaths and encephalitis remain isolated in these countries.
  • Rate of immunization of infants is arbitrary in relation to life expectancy rankings. Monaco ranks 1st for life expectancy (out of 223 nations) and has reported a 99% measles immunization rate of infants ages 12-23 months in 2012, but so did Albania, which ranks 60th for life expectancy and Brunei which ranks 74th,  and Turkmenistan at 155. Rwanda reports a 97% rate of infant vaccination is 197th in the world for life expectancy. Austria reports that only 76% of its babies are vaccinated for measles and it is ranked 32nd in the world for life expectancy, while Benin has a 72% infant measles vaccination rate and ranks 191st for life expectancy. By the way, United States reported an infant vaccination of 92% for measles in 2012- the same as Switzerland.
  • But this goes beyond just you and your child doesn’t it? You’re concerned about spreading measles to others, especially babies who are too young to be vaccinated. So you immunized to prevent being a part of the spread of disease. If this is you, your motivations are commendable. You consider vaccination a civic duty, something you do for the good of everyone. Unfortunately, even if you and your children are vaccinated, you will still likely spread measles to others. A 2011 outbreak of measles in New York was traced to a woman who was fully vaccinated. This is probably not isolated since other studies have found fully vaccinated individuals still get measles, and the spread of disease amongst vaccinated individuals remains a blind spot for the medical and public health professions, as the study notes. The International Journal of Epidemiology records a case of measles vaccine failure in Hungary, where the majority of measles cases struck those who had been vaccinated. A case study from India documents a measles outbreak in a slum. Almost one-third of the children who contracted measles were vaccinated for the disease.
  • Who is at risk for severe measles complications? Most superficial information will tell you that unvaccinated or under vaccinated individuals are the most at risk, but if you dig deeper into medical literature you will find that nutrition can either make or break the body’s ability to fight measles. The aforementioned India study found that children who had vitamin A supplementation were less likely to contract measles. These findings have been replicated in America as well. In 1993, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that “In spite of the availability of effective vaccines, measles continues to be a public health problem throughout the world”, and then goes on to outline protocols for using Vitamin A in treating measles, stating that usage of Vitamin A supplementation is associated with fewer complications in measles cases. The Journal of Infectious Diseases echoes this finding stating that most severe cases of measles int he United States occur in vitamin A deficient individuals. This article (and the World Health Organization) states that severe complications and deaths from measles still occur most commonly in developing countries and that individuals who are immunocompromised by HIV/AIDS, are malnourished or vitamin A deficient are most at risk. It also cites studies which show that crowding (several individuals in small living quarters) has been a factor in Zaire, though those results have not been replicated in the United Sates.   However, malnourishment and Vitamin A deficiency are a more significant problem in Zaire than in the United States and this probably accounts for the discrepancy in findings. In fact the World Health Organization recognizes the importance of vitamin A in fighting measles, even with vaccination and recommends vitamin A therapy for all children with measles.
  • When is it really measles? One study found that only 11% of measles cases in infants were actually  validated by testing. The British Medical Journal went on to find that many cases reported as measles and rubella were actually roseola infant when testing was employed. How many reports of measles are we getting that may not be measles at all?
  • If you or child have been vaccinated for measles, you could still have the disease and you or doctor may not even know it. Modified measles is a documented phenomenon in which individuals who have been vaccinated for measles still contract the virus but because of the vaccine don’t display the typical the symptoms of the disease. The characteristic spots associated with measles are very frequently absent in modified measles. Most doctors aren’t very familiar with this so they won’t consider it a possibility in vaccinated individuals or test for it. A similar phenomenon called atypical measles was noted when the killed strain measles vaccine was in use.
  • One of the goals of measles vaccination is to reduce cases of measles encephalitis by reducing the number of measles cases. Unfortunately, the vaccine doesn’t always work this way. Cases of measles encephalitis have been found in vaccinated individuals and vaccine failure is usually cited as an explanation. That’s right, even if you have been vaccinated for measles, you can still contract the disease and develop encephalitis. Though the CDC claims that no cases of measles encephalitis have ever been found to be caused by the vaccine, this is untrue. There are a few well documented cases. One case of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis comes from India where a girl began to regress mentally and physically several years after being vaccinated for measles as a baby. She had no history of measles and tests found that it was MMR that had caused the encephalitis. Extensive testing found that a Canadian toddler developed measles inclusion body encephalitis several months after MMR vaccination.  Fascinatingly enough, the doctors who researched this case, acknowledge in their report that cases of SSPE have increased in vaccinated children since the introduction of universal vaccination, though the overall incidence of SSPE has decreased. This means that while encephalitis cases are increasing amongst vaccinated individuals, they would have to be decreasing for the unvaccinated. Okuda found that in Japan between the years of 1976 through 1986, 5.4% of SSPE cases did occur in individuals who had been vaccinated for measles. Even the product insert for MMR II says : “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that ‘a certain number of cases of encephalitis may be expected to occur in a large childhood population in a defined period of time even when no vaccines are administered’. However, the data suggest the possibility that some of these cases may have been caused by measles vaccines.”
  • Measles encephalitis is said to occur in 1 of every 1,000 cases of measles, however, many physicians who actually practiced when measles was common questioned this statistic and put the rate of encephalitis at 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100,000 for children who are adequately fed and living in sanitary conditions (How To Raise A Healthy Child… Despite Your Doctor, Mendelsohn 239-7)
  • Babies who are breastfed by mothers who had measles receive stronger antibodies that last longer than those who are breastfed by  mothers who were vaccinated.
  • What constitutes a public health crisis? The CDC’s official statement on measles reads: “In the United States, measles caused 450 reported deaths and 4,000 cases of encephalitis annually before measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s.” So by the CDC’s standard, 450 deaths and 4,000 cases of an illness is cause for grave concern. Then consider this: according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 15,780 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 1,960 children will die from cancer. Most of these childhood cancer cases will be leukemia, brain and nervous system cancers, and lymphoma. So before you go ranting about the legions of deaths that will occur if people stop vaccinating for measles, consider that your child is already more than four times more likely to die of cancer than an individual of any age was to die of measles before the vaccine was introduced. (And that your child is four times more likely to develop cancer than an individual of any age was to develop measles encephalitis before the vaccine.) Much has been said about the great burden and cost that fighting measles would entail if the disease was to become endemic, but cancer is already far more common and far more costly to treat. According to the CDC, in 2013 2 million people developed antibiotic resistant bacterial infections and 23,000 died as a result of an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection.  If you’re worried about deaths from measles, consider that there are greater threats looming on the horizon.
  • You probably consider yourself a rational person and believe that the excipients in vaccines are very safe. You’ve probably heard that any toxic substances are just a drop in the bucket. But that’s a drop that gets shot straight into your child’s bloodstream, bypassing other routes like inhalation or ingestion where it can be flushed out of the system more easily via bodily process like sneezing, coughing and vomiting. Excipients in the MMR Pro Quad shot include  potassium dibasic phosphate. PDP is known to damage the kidneys. (If you read the full text of the cited study, you’ll find that scientists specifically used PDP for this very reason.)
  • Do you consider yourself pro-life? Consider that the MMR ProQuad shot contains the MRC-5 cell culture derived from the lung cells of a 14 week gestation baby boy who was aborted by a  27 year old woman. The MMR-II vaccine contains the WI-38 lung cell culture derived from a baby girl who was electively aborted at three weeks gestation. Are you a vegan or vegetarian? Consider that both Pro Quad and MMR-II contain cultures from chick embryo cells.

Those are the facts. And they are facts, not just rumors, conspiracy theories or hearsay on the web. This information is taken from medical literature, most of which is pro-vaccine despite its acknowledgements of the limitations and even dangers of measles vaccination.  So when you tell us non vaccinating parents that it is safe for us to get the measles vaccine because Wakefield is a fraud and has been denounced by the medical community, you are not actually addressing our concerns. What we see is that you are putting your faith in a practice that has not been shown to be as effective or safe as most medical authorities purport. And this is why our reasons for refusing the measles vaccine go way, way beyond Wakefield.

Update: Another gem in the Huffington Post here. Renowned vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland details why the MMR shot is not effective at preventing measles. He states that it is far less effective than anticipated and that immunity from it quickly wanes. He also condemns in no uncertain terms those who refuse vaccination. But for a moment, imagine if people in other professions could use this kind of “logic”.

Can you imagine walking into a car lot and the salesman admits to your face that the cars he sells are lemons and will break down shortly after they leave the lot. But he assures you that it is absolutely necessary that you buy a car from him because everybody loves his car lot and buys from him too. And if you don’t by from his car lot, the state, your family, friends and neighbors will all shame and pressure you into buying from the lemon dealership because they bought from it too. None of this hue and cry would change the fact that the car doesn’t work properly. This is the real pseudo-science. Failure to produce the results claimed.

Update June 26, 2016- A great 2009 piece from the Journal of Infectious Diseases about nonclassical measles in two fully vaccinated physicians can be found here. It discusses a number of aspects of the disease eradication program and the role of vaccination. Little is really known about the full impact of modified/nonclassical measles because it is rarely given any consideration as a diagnosis and remains a little researched subject.  “To complicate matters, nonclassic cases of measles in vaccinated persons may be identified, which must be investigated. Often the symptoms are mild and resolve rapidly and, outside of the context of an outbreak or known exposure to a measles case patient, the nonclassic presentation might not raise suspicion of measles.” Also discusses the role of the lack of wild measles virus on the disease: “… the rate of nonclassic infection is likely to increase as measles control improves in a population, because boosting from exposure to wild-type measles virus will be rare. ” Also discusses difficulties with detecting cases of nonclassical measles in vaccinated individuals because the usual IgM method used for confirmation is unreliable in nonclassical cases.

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