The recent rise in the U.S. of vaccine-preventable diseases has been largely blamed on those who refuse to vaccinate their children. Previous analyses have linked anti-vaxxers to certain outbreaks — like last year’s Disneyland measles outbreak — but there was still some controversy over the connection.
Now a new review funded by the National Institutes of Health has found a correlation between vaccine refusal and the rise of measles and whooping cough (also known as pertussis), two common vaccine-preventable conditions.
Researchers at Emory University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health reviewed reported case data in conjunction with previously published studies to better understand the relationship between vaccine refusal, delay or exemption and the flare-up of vaccine-preventable diseases.
“A substantial proportion of the U.S. measles cases in the era after elimination were intentionally unvaccinated,” the researchers concluded. “The phenomenon of vaccine refusal was associated with an increased risk for measles among people who refuse vaccines and among fully vaccinated individuals. Although pertussis resurgence has been attributed to waning immunity and other factors, vaccine refusal was still associated with an increased risk for pertussis in some populations.”
Both measles and whooping cough can be serious. Children under the age of five and adults older than 20 are at higher risk for complications surrounding measles, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Severe complications associated with the virus include pneumonia and encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. Approximately one in every 20 children with measles contracts pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
“Everyone for whom MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is recommended should be vaccinated,” the CDC advises. “This helps protect people who cannot receive MMR vaccine, and those who might have serious complications from measles. Keeping measles vaccination rates high is critical for preventing measles in the United States.”
Whooping cough is an extremely contagious respiratory disease caused by a specific bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, that prompts coughing fits and makes it difficult to breathe. One out of every 100 babies who get the illness will die, but again, according to the CDC, “The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.” Adults with whooping cough tend to suffer less serious complications, but one out of every 20 teens and adults will require hospitalized care.
With all of this information about how simple vaccines can prevent two potentially fatal illnesses, one may wonder what the opposition is all about.
The most pernicious myth cited by many who oppose vaccination is that there’s some link between vaccinations and autism. This belief is based on a fraudulent study published by U.K. physician Andrew Wakefield that has since been retracted. Wakefield has been barred from practicing medicine in the U.K., and several studies have refuted his initial “findings,” including a study funded by vaccine deniers that found absolutely no link.
Not vaccinating a child doesn’t just hurt that child, it endangers the health of other kids who can’t be vaccinated for health or age reasons (children with compromised immune systems, for example, maybe not be able to receive vaccinations). As HuffPost previously reported, “When the number of unvaccinated children rises above a certain threshold, so-called ‘herd immunity‘ is compromised — and preventable diseases get a toehold in the community.”
Sketch comedy group Girl Pants Productive put this all into a more tangible perspective in their video. Watch and you’ll understand: