A reader asks:
Could it be possible that vaccinated older individuals are losing their immunity, developing “atypical” clinical measles infection, and transmitting infection to the unvaccinated or undervaccinated—similar to what has occurred with pertussis? Could recently vaccinated individuals be transmitting the live attenuated virus to the non-immune (as was thought could be a potential problem in the past?) What has been the hospitalization rate and mortality rate in the recent outbreak? It seems we need more drill-down data on this epidemic.
Peer-reviewed studies clearly demonstrate that older individuals do not lose immunity to measles, mumps, rubella or chickenpox (viral antigens) after appropriate immunization, unlike diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (bacterial antigens), where a substantial amount of immunity wanes over time. Thus, diphtheria and tetanus should be boosted every 10 years, whereas measles, mumps, and rubella (and chickenpox) do not need to be boosted.
It is also well-documented that the measles virus is not transmitted from a person who has received a measles vaccine (the MMR, which is a “live, attenuated virus”) to another person. Therefore, there is no risk to an infant too young to receive the MMR themselves, or a child or adult too sick to have measles immunity, to be around other people who receive MMR.
The last big measles epidemic in the United States was between 1989-1991. During that period of time, there were 55,622 reported cases of measles, and 123 deaths. 90% of the deaths were in unvaccinated people, and most cases and deaths were in children under five years old. Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there were approximately 3-4 million cases of measles and 450 deaths per year in the United States.
This epidemic, when you “drill down,” will probably turn out to be like every other epidemic. The pathogen (in this case, measles) doesn’t care whether whether you’ve received the vaccine or not. It doesn’t mind whether it’s transported via car or train or plane, or where it travels to (Arizona, Pennsylvania, Mexico, etc). It won’t distinguish the kids who will get moderate or severe symptoms from the children who will die.
Measles is apolitical. The virus is not interested in who you vote for. It doesn’t notice whether it spreads to a red state or a blue one. Measles has no ideology to pronounce or defend. It has no special interest except to multiply and infect as many people as it can. Unfortunately, some prominent politicians don’t understand that. After saying that he had his own kids vaccinated, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie couldn’t stop himself there:
“[P]arents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
Wrong answer, Governor. Government’s responsibility, via its elected officials (in addition to forming a more perfect union, establishing Justice, and providing for a common defense), is to “promote the general Welfare” — protecting the public’s health and safety. (Securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” is empty talk when you’re sick with measles, and there are no descendants if you die from a vaccine-preventable childhood illness.)
Ophthalmologist-turned-Senator Rand Paul also supported parental “choice,” then did his best to effectively disqualify himself from national elected office anywhere except, maybe, Kentucky:
“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”
Uh, you made that up, Senator. You’re not saying that vaccines cause profound developmental disorders, are you? Because there is no evidence that vaccines cause mental or developmental disorders, and substantial, peer-reviewed research concluding that vaccines do not cause these disorders, including autism! Maggie Fox tweaks our understanding: Autism is due to random genetic mutations on “at least 100 different genes” that occur during fetal development — before birth:
A new genetic study shows even siblings with autism often have very different DNA mutations from one another— a finding that strengthens the evidence that autism is often just genetic bad luck.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, add to other research that shows “autism” is a broad term for a range of developmental disorders that are barely related to one another. The catchall name could be making it seem like one disorder is affecting many kids, when in fact it’s a range of conditions.
“It is largely just a random effect,” Scherer said. “Everybody in the population accumulates new mutations in the genome when they are conceived.”
Of course, Hillary Clinton couldn’t keep out of the fray, sarcastically tweeting to her “choir”:
The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest
Calling the science “pretty indisputable,” President Obama stated this past Sunday:
“We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” he said, adding: “You should get your kids vaccinated.”
See? That wasn’t so hard!