Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Could Result in Measles Epidemic In Britain, US

Many parents opt out of the MMR jab for unwarranted fear it triggers autism.

December 10, 2008

Don't let them down: Skipping vaccinations could lead to an epidemic that puts thousands of kids at risk.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—British health officials say they are bracing for a measles epidemic that could affect 30,000 to 100,000 kids as more and more parents opt out of the measles, mumps and rubella (MRR) vaccine for their children. By the end of October 2008, the number of measles cases in that country soared higher than it’s been since the current monitoring system went into effect in 1995.


THE DETAILS: The British Health Protection Agency says nearly 1,050 measles cases were reported by the end of October, surpassing the total number of cases for all of last year. “The rise is due to a relatively low MMR vaccine uptake over the past decade, and there are now a large number of children who are not fully vaccinated with MMR,” says Mary Ramsay, MD, an HPA immunization expert. “This means that measles is spreading easily among unvaccinated children. There is now a real risk of a large measles epidemic.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Medical experts in the United States are also worried about measles outbreaks. Parents here are bypassing many vaccinations for fear they cause children to develop autism, a theory that arose in the late 1990s based on a small study that’s since been debunked. “I am deeply concerned about a resurgence of measles and polio in this country if this misinformation continues to propagate,” says pediatrician Phil Landrigan, MD, chair of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “There is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism, despite much misinformation to the contrary on the Internet and in other venues,” he adds.

As a parent, here’s what you can do if you worry about vaccinating your child:

• Follow CDC guidelines. Landrigan suggests parents follow the Center for Disease Control’s advice on the MMR vaccination—get the vaccination twice. The first dose is usually given when your child is 12 to 15 months old, and the second when they are between 4 and 6 years old.

• Know it’s not all or nothing. Robert W. Sears, MD, author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears Parenting Library) (Little, Brown and Company, 2007), believes that anti-vaccine absolutism is partially to blame for declining vaccination rates. If parents want to space out vaccinations, they can follow his advice: Only get two vaccines at a time, with no more than one live virus at a time. “Split them up and don’t get too many vaccines at the same time,” Sears says. “I believe that may cut down on side effects and may help the vaccines work better.” Extracautious parents have other options, he adds. “Split the MMR into three different shots; mumps or rubella first around age 1, then the other at age 2, and measles at age 3,” Sears says. “Or, parents can schedule them closer together, 3 to 6 months apart.” Skipping the vaccine altogether is not one of the options, though. “I do think it’s OK to get the full MMR, since there’s really no good evidence of a link to autism,” Sears adds. “And it would be prudent and socially responsible to complete the MMR vaccine prior to entering preschool.”

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