I’m old enough to have acquired every childhood communicable disease except for smallpox and polio. The latter diseases were already practically eradicated from earth thanks to Jenner’s original vaccine and Jonas Salk’s vaccine, respectively. In fact, the name “vaccine” comes from the name of the live virus in the smallpox vaccine which is called Vaccinia. But I digress.
I got very sick with mumps (swollen salivary glands, fever) and measles (widespread blood-red rash and fever). Rubella–they called it “German measles” at the time–was a milder disease with swollen lymph glands in the neck. The same virus causes birth defects if a pregnant woman catches it. I struggled through the rash, itching, and scarring of chicken pox along with every other kid in my house. I coughed and wheezed my way through “whooping cough” which is also known as pertussis. I became naturally immune to those diseases after recovering from the infections, but I would much rather have had the vaccinations that are now available to all.
Recent epidemics of whooping cough and measles have occurred in California and Ohio, respectively.
A hoax was perpetrated on society several years ago that childhood vaccines were associated with the increased incidence of autism. The original investigators admitted their lie, but the urban myth caught on, fueled by sensational media and some celebrities. These false rumors no doubt contributed to the decision of some parents to delay, spread out, or forgo getting their children vaccinated to the detriment of public health.
The most recent studies and reviews of all medical literature on vaccinations have shown that there is no association of vaccination with autism, and that, moreover, the risk of any side effect other than skin pain and fever is extremely low. Severe allergic reactions to the meningitis vaccine have been reported, but that vaccine is not given routinely.
MMR and Seizure Risk: Don’t Delay It and Don’t Combine with Chickenpox Vaccine
MMR stands for measles, mumps, and rubella. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that MMR be given at 12-15 months of age. The risk of the baby having a seizure caused by fever is estimated to be about 1 in 4000. MMR can also be combined with the chickenpox vaccine so that the baby may receive one less shot, but this increases the risk of febrile seizures. Therefore, the CDC recommends that MMR and chickenpox vaccines be given separately. Although uncommon, the seizures are brief and do not increase the risk of epilepsy. The risk of seizure is increased to about 2 in 4000 when the MMR vaccine is given to children age 16-23 months. This is one reason not to delay the vaccination of MMR, but it also leaves the child susceptible to the diseases for a longer period of time.
Don’t Skip the Chickenpox Vaccine
Chickenpox is also known as Varicella. Besides avoiding the acute illness and uncomfortable vesicular rash caused by this highly contagious disease, the vaccination may also prevent the development of painful shingles (also called “herpes zoster”) in later adult life, which only occurs in people who had chickenpox at a much earlier age.
More Cases of Measles in the US
Measles has not been eradicated from the planet. The virus exists in developing countries where it still produces a serious disease. Travelers can easily spread the virus to unvaccinated individuals. The year of 2014 has seen the highest number of new cases of measles in the US in 20 years. The most recent outbreak occurred in an Amish community in Ohio where individuals are not uniformly vaccinated, although it is not forbidden by their religion. The Ohio Department of Health is now tightening up screening requirements to ensure vaccination for all of their own employees.
Victim of Its Own Success?
In an op-ed for the LA Times (July 13, 2014), Dr. Mark Gendreau from Lahey Hospital Emergency Department, writes, “immunization programs have become victims of their own success” because young American parents have little to no experience dealing with vaccine-preventable diseases (as I did). He goes on to say that an irrational mistrust in vaccinations has “led to pockets of the un-immunized, despite the extraordinary success and safety of childhood vaccination.”