(How we’ve unintentionally shifted the disease burden to young babies and adults, both whom are at higher risk for complications).
By vaccinating a generation of schoolchildren for measles, did we realize what we were doing? In theory, it seems great! Even though measles is statistically harmless for 99.99% of people, not having it would be more convenient right? The vaccine, if given two doses, is one of the few vaccines that works pretty well to reduce the number of measles cases in children age 5-19. (Important to note, there will always be a percentage of vaccinated individuals who are non-responders, which means they do not produce sufficient antibodies to be adequately protected from the infection—around 5-15% in this case. Therefore, even in 100% vaccinated communities, there will continue to be outbreaks). But did we ever stop to think what would happen once we lost our natural immunity and substituted vaccine immunity?
Unlike natural immunity, the measles vaccine does NOT offer lifelong protection. Estimates of its protection average around 15 years, and describe a phenomenon in the vaccine world known as “waning immunity.” But what does that MEAN for everyone? It means by the time children become young adults, they are now unprotected from the disease. And that means young women reaching child-bearing years are also unprotected. Not only is that a risk for the woman, potentially catching measles while pregnant, but a huge risk for the baby, who receives insufficient antibodies from the vaccinated mother.
The CDC says the most dangerous age groups for complications from measles are “under 5” (specifically 1 and under) and “over 20.” So for pregnant mothers who do not have immunity to pass to their babies in utero and later through breastfeeding, the babies are left completely vulnerable during their first year—exactly when a disease like measles would be most risky. (Vaccination for measles is not recommended until 12-15 months of age because studies show there is weak antibody response in babies under 15 months). As a result of losing natural immunity, we now have a generation of unvaccinated mothers and at-risk infants. How will we keep them safe?
The other trend we’ve seen over the past 10 years is an increase in adult measles cases. This is not a new trend however. In the 1980’s, there were also many adult cases during “outbreaks”, which they realized was a result of the numerous vaccinated children who did not respond to the one dose during their early years. As a result, they added a second booster of MMR at 5 years old. Now 20 years later, we are seeing the exact same pattern repeat itself. Half of the cases in the Disneyland outbreak, for example, were adults—many of whom were already vaccinated. And the downside of adults catching measles is it is much MORE SERIOUS than having the infection as a child. More serious = more likelihood for complications, the same ones (like encephalitis) they warn you about during an “outbreak” when they tell you to get your kids vaccinated.
So where do we go from here? Well, 20 year olds will need a third booster of MMR (this is already in the works according to the ACIP, the committee that decides what goes on vaccine schedules for adults and children), and adults would continue to need a booster every 15 years or so after that to keep sufficient immunity. The serious red flag here is according to the CDC, 1 in 4 adult women develop arthritis after the MMR vaccine. So not only do you NOT have lifelong immunity, you endure the risk of numerous adverse events at 1 year, 5 years, and every vaccination after that; and as a woman, you have a good chance of ending up with a chronic debilitating condition.
There is also an alarming downside for schoolchildren that we need to talk about. Plenty of new research is proving how acute febrile illness, like measles, reduces the likelihood of cancers and other serious diseases in adulthood. By removing the opportunity for our children to develop their immune systems properly, they become vulnerable to the more serious acute and chronic diseases later in life.
And I haven’t even mentioned the risk of severe side effects from the triple antigen live virus vaccine itself—risks that include seizures, brain damage, and even death according the the CDC’s own Vaccine Information Statement for MMR.
So because there is no more lifelong immunity, in order to stay “immune” from measles until you’re 80 years old, you would need 7 injections of measles, mumps, and rubella (since you can’t get a measles vaccine by itself) to “protect you”. 7 injections —> 21 doses. *Again, there will always a be a portion of the vaccinated population who will remain unprotected, even after multiple doses, so there WILL continue to be outbreaks of measles no matter how many people are vaccinated.
To recap: by losing natural immunity for measles for children 5-19 years old, we’ve exposed babies, pregnant women, and adults to measles—all vulnerable groups who are more likely to experience serious complications from the disease. While this was not the intention of mass vaccination in 1963, it is a reality we must come to terms with. I will also add, we are talking about a disease with a 0.06% risk of death among reported cases BEFORE the vaccine was licensed and introduced, according to the CDC. (And if you factor in how virtually all children got the disease, but less than 15% were reported to the public health departments because the infection was typically so mild, the mortality rate is actually much lower). Measles in the U.S. was never the deadly disease the media now makes it out to be.
And measles isn’t the only disease we vaccinate for that we are seeing this same phenomenon of unintended consequences—the rising epidemic of teenage/adult chicken pox and shingles cases is also due to vaccination of an entire generation. (But I’ll leave that for another post).
So is it really worth it as a society to lose our natural immunity, become dependent on lifetime doses of vaccines to maintain some level of protection, and place our most vulnerable populations (pregnant women and infants) at risk? I’m not sure yes would be the right answer here.
*To hear more about the difference between naturally immunity and artificially induced vaccine immunity—>listen to our episode on The Vaccine Conversation on ITUNES!