The Vaccine Controversy–A Measles Update

The Washington State Health Department announced this week that a women there died after contracting measles. According to the CDC, it’s the first confirmed death in the US due to measles since 2003.

As you can imagine, the press release about this death included a call for more comprehensive vaccination. Public figures, on the other hand, took the opportunity to tweet their opposition to the recent California vaccine legislation, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

In the health department report, the authors say that the woman who died contracted measles while she was in a health care facility. They also say that she already had several other health conditions that compromised her immune system. At no time did she display any symptoms of the disease, such as the characteristic measles rash.

The advice from the Department of Health is confusing, if not contradictory. They say

  1. The patient had a compromised immune system;
  2. People with compromised immune systems often cannot receive vaccinations;
  3. People with compromised immune systems may have poor immune response even when vaccinated; so
  4. You should get vaccinated.

I really don’t understand their logic, if there’s any logic there at all.


The Vaccine Controversy That Won’t Go Away

(Part 1 of 2)
Yesterday (Monday) the California State Senate passed a bill that would require all school-age children to have received a comprehensive vaccination regimen by the time they begin attending school or day care, whether public or private. There would be no exceptions for religious or personal beliefs. Governor Jerry Brown has indicated he will sign the bill.

Opponents of mandatory vaccination say this bill tramples their rights as parents to make healthcare decisions for their children. Supporters point to the Disneyland measles outbreak from earlier this year as evidence that there’s a problem. Most of those infected in the outbreak had not been inoculated, either because they were too young or because their parents had chosen not to provide the vaccine.

The vaccine controversy won’t go away just because of some study or piece of legislation. Much of the opposition comes from a British study published in 1998 that linked early childhood vaccination to autism.

Now, there’s no question that the incidence of autism has been growing alarmingly, and the rise began at roughly the same time as the increase in childhood vaccinations. But Lancet, the journal that published the British study, retracted the vaccine article after investigating further, and a much larger Danish study actually raised the possibility that vaccines protect against autism.

Still, the media picked up on the sensational story. Public figures have said they won’t have their children vaccinated. And now ordinary moms and dads refuse to protect their children. Interestingly, resistance to vaccination tends to be higher among the privileged. Areas of low vaccination rates in California include Silicon Valley, Beverly Hills, and the tonier areas of Orange County.

When I was a lad the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella, or German measles) vaccine hadn’t been developed yet. No surprise, I came down with both types of measles in quick succession. My younger sister developed both types, plus the mumps. My grandmother stayed with our family for nearly a month caring for one or the other of us. Somehow, we survived.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk more about how vaccines work (or don’t) and why the vaccine controversy rumbles on.