Measles in Wales Today, But Where Tomorrow?
There are now over 750 cases of measles in Wales with 72 cases being reported since Thursday. Unfortunately, as can be expected with measles, as many as 77 people have been hospitalized since the beginning of the outbreak and sadly, it may just be a matter of time before someone suffers serious complications and dies. Although children of all age groups are falling ill, the highest attack rate appears to be in children aged 10 to 18, many of which were not vaccinated because of concerns raised about the safety of the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s – concerns that were sparked by Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent and unethical research.
At the time, some parents made a decision not to vaccinate their children based on the Wakefield’s suggestion that the MMR vaccine (which provides immunity against measles, mumps and rubella) somehow triggered autism. However, after dozens of studies have been conducted and countless research funds have been spent, the scientific consensus is that no such link exists.
But have parents gotten the message? Has science gone back in time to recapture the attention of those who made decisions based on faulty information?
Apparently not. Which explains why parents in Wales are now getting their children vaccinated and hoping it won’t be too late.
Prior to this outbreak, it’s quite possible that these parents, who purposely refrained from vaccination, didn’t really consider measles infection as a risk. But in the face of the growing outbreak, parents are reconsidering their previous choices. In trying to get the message out that vaccination is safe and effective, the BBC published a Measles Q&A and Dr Marion Lyons, director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales has been quoted as saying:
”Those not vaccinated are highly likely to catch measles, which is highly contagious, and it is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies. It is inevitable that some children vaccinated in the last two weeks will already be incubating measles and vaccination will not prevent them from becoming unwell, but their illness is likely to be milder than if they had not received the vaccine….Measles cannot be taken lightly because you can never tell who will go on to develop the more serious complications of pneumonia or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). MMR vaccination offers the only protection against these complications.”
So, as parents scramble to get their children vaccinated, in hopes that they aren’t already incubating the disease, many experts have acknowledged that this outbreak did not come as a surprise, and was really considered just a matter of time. Sadly, the man who is most responsible (which many would argue to be Andrew Wakefield) is not only distancing himself from responsibility, but using it as an opportunity to continue his egotistical need for attention. (For a full smack down of Mr. Wakefield’s response to the outbreak, check out Mr. Carey’s blog post today on Left Brain, Right Brain.)
Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy can sometimes result in vaccine refusal. Which – as we see in Wales – can then present a very real threat to public health.
But make no mistake. This outbreak may be limited to Wales today, but where will it appear tomorrow?
In 2011 there were a total of 222 measles cases reported from 31 different states in the U.S. with 90% of them being attributed to importation and 32% of those infected being hospitalized. In 2012 there were three cases of congenital rubella syndrome. And wait! What’s that? There have been six cases of mumps among college students reported at the University of Richmond recently? Yes, that’s right. These diseases may not be very prominent in the U.S. right now (thanks to a highly vaccinated population) however they do still exist and pose a risk to children everywhere.
The MMR vaccine has been proven to be safe, effective and the only protection against a potentially fatal and highly contagious disease. As a parent, wouldn’t you rather protect your children from diseases that they may encounter tomorrow by vaccinating them today? Or would you rather wish you had them vaccinated today to protect them in from an outbreak that began weeks ago? Unfortunately, the only gain we make by delaying vaccines is a greater risk of infection.
This personal story of Dr. Swartzberg of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, shared on the Shot By Shot website, provides a wonderful example of how a brief encounter with a measles patient can set off a chain reaction of cases.