On education, religion, knowledge, and vaccination

The following information can easily be found on the web site of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) here in the US:

  • Vaccination against measles first became available in 1963.
  • Prior to the availability of measles vaccination, some 3 to 4 million people here in the US contracted measles each year.
  • About 500,000 of those cases were reported to the CDC.
  • Of those half-million patients
    • 400 to 500 (about 0.1%) died
    • 48,000 (nearly 10%) were hospitalized
    • 1,000 (about 0.2%) developed encephalitis
  • Measles vaccination reduced the incidence of this viral infection by > 99%.

On Monday this week, it was reported that the CDC had identified 387 cases of measles to date in 2019 (as compared to 372 cases in the whole of 2018 and 667 cases in the whole of 2014). We should be clear that even if there were to be 1,000 reported cases of measles in the US in 2019, this would still constitute a 99.8% reduction in the reported incidence of measles compared to the pre-vaccination era.

There has been no reported case of a death from measles in the US since 2015.

The vast majority of people around the world who get measles today do so because they have not been vaccinated as children. The reasons for not being vaccinated may include:

  • The lack of a national vaccination program for children in poorer nations
  • Individual religious beliefs of the children’s parents (which are not, in fact, part of the religious tenets of any major established religion; see here)
  • A small number of well-defined — and mostly temporary — medical conditions (see here)
  • The idea that vaccination against measles with the MMR vaccine can cause autism, which has repeatedly been shown not to be the case (most recently by a large Danish study published earlier this year)

In the vast majority of the US today, children are not allowed to attend any child-care institution or school (public or private) unless they have had a number of very specific vaccinations, including those against measles. However, there are exceptions. Nearly every significant outbreak of measles in the US over the past 10 years or more has, as a consequence, occurred when an unvaccinated individual has been infected with measles outside the US and has brought the disease back home to a community with a high percentage of other unvaccinated members.

The real victims here are the children who get infected as a consequence of their parents’ beliefs. I am old enough now that — like most of my contemporaries — I had measles (and mumps and chickenpox too) as a young child, long before the advent of vaccines against these disorders. I can also remember my mother (a trained nurse) asking the doctor whether he thought I would survive it. I am quite sure she didn’t know I had heard her ask that question.

Dr. Wilde replied, in his usual calm manner, “We’ll just have to keep a close eye on him over the next couple of days.”

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