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The measles vaccine saves lives. And it does not cause autism.
The researchers and medical professionals who have been trying for years to convince parents of those truths just got what ought to be enough evidence to end the misinformation campaign that’s threatening the health and safety of increasing numbers of American children.
Researchers in Denmark have published a major paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine with findings of a massive study of data on more than half a million Danish children born over the span of a decade. Their findings are clear: There is no link between the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism.
But then, this latest data simply bolsters what earlier research has shown. Epidemiologists have been telling us there is no link at least since 2010, when a British medical tribunal found that Andrew Wakefield, a former gastroenterologist, had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” as the lead author of a study claiming to have found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Wakefield lost his right to practice medicine in the United Kingdom, and The Lancet, the medical journal that had published his “study” in 1998, fully retracted it as false, saying the editors had been deceived. There were reports that Wakefield had “undisclosed” financial interests in making his claims.
And yet, the damage that started with Wakefield’s initial study continues to spread. Here in the United States, where he moved in 2004, there’s an alarming resurgence in measles cases. There are six outbreaks right now, with Washington state especially hard hit.
In recent days, there have been two congressional hearings into the problem of falling vaccination rates and the surge in measles cases.
The problem is particularly frustrating because it is so unnecessary. Vaccines had all but eradicated measles in the United States by 2000.
Before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles killed 400 to 500 Americans each year, mostly children, sent many more to hospitals and left many with lasting problems including blindness and neurological damage.
That doesn’t have to happen again. But the anti-vaccine movement that started in part because of Wakefield has picked up steam recently. Like so many things in American society, the fear and rumors are spread on Facebook and other social media.
One of the witnesses at a recent Senate hearing was Andrew Lindenberger, an Ohio high school student who recently became famous by having himself vaccinated when he turned 18, against the wishes of his mother, who believes in vaccine conspiracies. Lindenberger said his mother got most of her false information from Facebook.
Ironically, probably one reason the anti-vaxxer movement has swayed so many people is because the vaccines for childhood diseases have been so successful. Most of today’s parents have never experienced the damage they can do.
It’s not just measles. Chickenpox, which can necessitate amputations, lead to shingles later in life, and even be fatal in infants, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, has also resurfaced. There was a major chickenpox outbreak in Asheville, N.C., last November.
Some parents think it’s OK to skip vaccinations for their children because of “herd Immunity” — since most kids are vaccinated, theirs should be OK. But that’s a selfish approach that can endanger people who for some health reason can’t be vaccinated.
Others, like Lindenberger’s mother, have bought into the anti-vaxxer scare.
Witnesses at the recent congressional hearings called for a major public relations campaign to combat the persistent misinformation. Social media sites are being urged to exercise more responsibility.
There also have been calls for tougher vaccination laws, with fewer exemptions.
Most states, including Virginia, allow exemptions for religious reasons. Some parents have legitimate religious objections to vaccinations, but there’s considerable evidence that others, misled by junk science, take the religious exemption because it’s easy to do so.
The measles vaccine saves lives. It’s been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that it does not cause autism.
For the sake of their children and everyone in the community, parents should listen to doctors and researchers and allow their children to have these important vaccines. Any death of a child is terrible. An easily preventable death is even worse.