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A Half-Truth In The Vaccination Era - Serious Measles and the Role the Measles Vaccine Plays in Preventing It by Sandy Gottstein

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Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but some things bear repeating.  Particularly when most seem to be buying the party line.  So for those of you who have heard it all before, my apologies.

Buying the party line is a most serious abnegation of responsibility when practiced by the media, for it is their job to ferret out the truth.  Granted it is not always easy.  But a half-truth can be just as misleading and irresponsible as an outright lie.  Maybe even more so.  A recent example from the UK perfectly exemplifies this point.

The headline blared "Why kids must have MMR jab".  In this story about a very sick baby, the conclusion was that this baby was sick because of declining rates of MMR vaccination and the alleged affect it had on measles vaccine-induced "herd immunity". 

Anyone with half a heart will feel for this baby and her mother's suffering.  But what is the truth?  Is this baby sick because of declining vaccination rates or is there more to this story?

Although it is impossible to draw absolute conclusions about a specific case, there are legitimate, alternative explanations for what might have led to this poor infant's plight.

They rest on the fact (as I have noted ad nauseum) that measles has occurred in 100% vaccinated populations.  Therefore one cannot conclude with any certainty that this particular baby would not have gotten measles had every single person in her community been vaccinated. 

There are a  number of reasons why this is the case.  First, the measles vaccine is not 100% effective to begin with.  This is called "primary vaccine failure".  In addition, measles continues to circulate subclinically, can occur as a mild case, and/or vaccine effectiveness can wane (also called "secondary vaccine failure").  Thus a person might well contract the measles from a vaccinated person as easily as from an unvaccinated one.  (For more on "herd immunity" go to: Is the theory of "herd immunity" flawed?)

Bear in mind that any determination of measles vaccine effectiveness is based on measurement of antibodies, which may or may not reflect actual immunity, and the incidence of full-blown disease.  Due to subclinical and mild measles cases, however, which are not included in any measurement of effectiveness, actual effectiveness is probably being overstated, particularly insofar as measles contagion is concerned.

Note that I am not among those who believe the vaccine did not have any effect.  Clearly, unlike with measles deaths (1,2), when data is included that goes back to the early part of the 20th century (3,4), way before the measles vaccine was introduced, the vaccine does appear to have caused a decline in full-blown, reported cases.  But as I have said in at least one other column (5), any comfort drawn from this fact assumes that a full-blown case is worse than a mild or subclinical one.  As a Lancet article shows, however, measles without rash, i.e., subclinical or mild measles, may lead to serious long-term health problems.  And incidence data ignores the fact that mild cases might not have been reported at all.

Moreover, in the pre-vaccine era, the mother of this child would have in all likelihood gotten measles and passed on measles antibodies to her infant, thereby protecting the child at this uniquely dangerous childhood age. (6) Mothers who were vaccinated do not protect their infants for nearly as long.  (7)  Any effort to vaccinate infants in order to potentially subvert this problem will run into those very antibodies as an impediment to successful vaccination.  Moreover, attempts to overcome those antibodies as a solution to this problem have resulted in an increase in serious disease.

As I discussed in an earlier column, "Measles In The Vaccination Age:  Is It Now Deadlier?", we may have made things worse by vaccinating.  Infants and adults, for whom the disease can indeed be serious, are now more, not less, likely to get measles.  And, in fact, the death rate, precisely for the reasons I outlined above, may have increased.

"Ah", you say, "but we can at least protect adults by revaccinating, right?"  Not necessarily.  As I noted in an earlier column,  "Even Dr. Samuel Katz, one of the developers of the measles vaccine, and his coauthors admit as much in their chapter on measles in the textbook 'Vaccines', when they write, 'Boosting of antibody titers appears to be transient, with several investigators finding decay of antibody levels to the pre-revaccination level within months to years'”.  Other research confirms this possibility.

All this suggests that as a consequence of measles vaccination, this particular baby may have been more, not less, likely to have gotten measles.  Guilt-tripping those who are not vaccinated may feel good, but it does not appear to be in line with all the facts or consider the whole picture.  It may also do little to nothing to prevent such cases in the future.

This issue is clearly far more complicated than articles like the one cited above would suggest.  Sensational, one-sided arguments about vaccination, such as were promulgated in the article cited here, need to be recognized for what they are - sensational, one-sided arguments.  And while they can serve as a starting point for discussion of vaccination, accepting them at face value only serves the half-truth, and those who benefit financially from their use.

Sandy Gottstein

Date: 11-26-2007

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." - Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), paraphrasing John Philpot Curran (1808)