As Vaccination Rates Continue to Fall, Measles Outbreak Claims 35th European Victim This Year
A six year-old boy in Italy is the latest to die of measles in the European outbreak. His death marks the 35th victim of this highly contagious viral disease on the continent this year. Once nearly eradicated in all developed nations, measles has been making a steady return, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.
This boy had been suffering from leukemia, and reportedly contracted the virus from an older sibling that the parents had decided not to vaccinate, despite their younger son’s compromised immune system.
Andrew Wakefield, con artist.
Vaccination rates have fallen across Europe and in the Americas in recent years, in large part due to the work of a man named Andrew Wakefield, considered to be the father of the anti-vaccination movement. In 1998, Wakefield, along with 12 of his colleagues published a case series that suggested the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine may be linked to or cause autism in otherwise healthy children. This study, despite its small sample size, uncontrolled design, and speculative conclusions, received wide publicity and, fearing the link to be true, parents began to refuse the MMR vaccine for their children. This study was almost immediately refuted. Ten of the 12 co-authors retracted their involvement in the study, and it was revealed that Wakefield’s study had actually been funded by lawyers representing parents who were seeking to sue vaccine producers for damages after their children were diagnosed with autism.
The paper was completely retracted in February 2010, and Wakefield and his colleagues were held guilty of ethical violations and scientific misrepresentation. It was found that Wakefield was guilty of deliberate fraud—picking and choosing data to suit his case and falsification of facts, apparently for financial gain. The British Medical Journal has published a series of articles detailing the way in which this massive fraud was exposed.
Measles outbreaks and global implications
— WHO/Europe (@WHO_Europe) July 11, 2017
According to the World Health Organization, Europe, in the year 2017 alone, Italy where the latest six year-old victim lived, has seen greater than 3,300 confirmed cases of measles. He is the second Italian to die this year. There have also been 31 deaths in Romania, one in Germany, and one in Portugal.
“Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared. Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population.”
Europe is not alone. In the United States, the State of Minnesota is experiencing the worst flare up of measles in 30 years, and have seen more cases just since April of this year than in the entire continental United States in all of 2016. Minnesota has a large population of Somali immigrants, and 84% of the measles cases in Minnesota are amongst the Somali community, mostly children.
In December, 2014, the infamous Disneyland Outbreak was responsible for 127 cases of measles, traced to eight states, Mexico, and Canada.
And in third world countries, rates of infection and death are worse. Ethiopia has documented 2119 cases since January.
What is Measles and why is it so dangerous?
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that remains an important cause of death for children around the globe. Measles is transmitted via droplets from the mouth, nose, or throat of infected persons. Coughs and sneezes spread these droplets, which remain active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to two hours. Measles has a long incubation period of 10-12 days following infection, during which time the person is highly contagious to others, despite exhibiting no symptoms. Once symptoms appear, 10-12 days following exposure, they include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days after that a rash develops, beginning on the face and upper neck and spreading downwards gradually.
Measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with weakened immune systems or vitamin A deficiency. The most serious complications include blindness, severe diarrhea and dehydration, severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia, and encephalitis—an infection causing brain swelling.
Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and related complications, including death. There is no treatment available for measles, but as few as two doses of measles vaccination appears to provide protection against contracting it in the first place.
What the experts have to say
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, said: "Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy. We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared. I urge all endemic countries to take urgent measures to stop transmission of measles within their borders, and all countries that have already achieved this to keep up their guard and sustain high immunization coverage."
“Asking for freedom not to vaccinate your children is like asking for the freedom to travel on a highway at 300 km/h. It’s dangerous not only for yourself and your passengers but also for others,” said Italian immunologist and Professor of Microbiology and Virology, Roberto Burioni.
American scientist, Seth Berkley has also been quoted on the issue. “Measles is probably the best argument for why there needs to global health, and why we have to think about it as a global public good. Because in a sense, measles is the canary in the coal mine for immunization. It, you know, highly transmissible. The vaccine costs 15 cents, so it’s not—you know, shouldn’t be an issue in terms of cost.” He also has said, “I wish we could have state-of-the-art hospitals in every corner of the earth…but realistically, it’s going to be a while before that can happen. But we can immunize every kid on earth, and we can prevent these diseases. It’s only a matter of political will, a little bit of money, and some systems to do it.”
What is being done?
In Europe, some nations are moving to make vaccination mandatory. Italy has just passed a law to require 12 vaccinations mandatory, including MMR, and that makes it illegal to enroll an unvaccinated children in school; the fine for doing so is $8380. Germany will soon begin a mandatory vaccination program as well; noncompliance could cost parents up to $2800 in fines. Other Western nations are also contemplating similar compulsory vaccination laws. In the United States, vaccination remains voluntary, although some pediatricians are beginning to fight back against the anti-vaccination movement.
As parents, we are right to try to keep our children safe. And this writer certainly values individual liberties and freedoms, and would not support mandatory vaccination policy in the United States. But when it comes to matters of established science, and personal and public safety, we would do well to defer to the experts and vaccinate our children. Our great grandparents, who saw the tragic death of many children, would think we were nuts to do otherwise.