In Our View: Vaccinations Remain Vital

Misinformation about their safety leads to dangerous resurgence of the measles

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You might not recognize the name Andrew Wakefield, but you have been impacted by his work. And not in a good way.

Wakefield was a British doctor who in 1998 wrote a research paper for the medical journal The Lancet in which he suggested a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. That would be groundbreaking work — if it were true. What is true is that Wakefield had been paid by trial lawyers hoping to cash in by blaming vaccines for their clients’ autism, and that he had applied for a patent on his own measles vaccine. What is true is that no other scientists have been able to replicate Wakefield’s study, which is a key component of accepted science. And what is true is that Wakefield was subsequently removed from the Medical Register in Britain, meaning he could no longer practice medicine.

In short, Wakefield was a charlatan who has been thoroughly discredited. The Lancet partially retracted his original article in 2004 and completely retracted it in 2010. And yet, the fear-mongering he triggered has continued to linger. Many parents, both in the United States and across the pond, have used Wakefield’s fraudulent study as a reason to avoid having their children vaccinated. Now the results are being felt.

Two decades ago, measles was largely eradicated in developed nations. Through widespread use of the childhood measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, those diseases became a rarity in the United States, typically found only when somebody contracted something overseas and brought it back with them. Following Wakefield’s initial report in 1998, the rate of MMR inoculation in England and Wales fell from 92 percent to below 80 percent, according to The (London) Sunday Times. In 1998, Britain reported 56 cases of measles; by 2008, with fewer people receiving the vaccine, the number of cases was 1,348. This year, there have been nearly 50 confirmed cases of the measles in the U.S., with outbreaks in New York and Southern California, and experts blame a decrease in the number of vaccinations for the increase in those who catch the disease. Funny how that works.

According to Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a shame of the anti-vaccination (movement) that the dangerous disease still spreads. During a similar outbreak last year, the national Centers for Disease Control concluded that 82 percent of the cases occurred in unvaccinated persons, and of those, 79 percent said they deliberately shunned the vaccination on ‘philosophical’ grounds.”

The latest case in this country hits especially close to home. An infant contracted the measles in Vietnam and returned home through Portland International Airport on March 24. She later visited a primary care clinic. Anybody who has not been inoculated and came into contact with her could contract the disease. Even more eye-opening is the fact that inoculated people can carry the disease but not develop symptoms, meaning that an unvaccinated person who comes into contact with them can contract it.

Measles poses a serious health risk. It is a respiratory infection that causes fever and a rash and can be fatal, and children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. And there is no logical reason for it to remain a threat in this country, where the MMR vaccine is readily available. Some 16 years ago, a quack in Britain dangled fabricated evidence of a link between vaccines and autism, and far too many people took the bait. With a rise in the measles, we all are paying for that gullibility.