By Richard Smith
As the vaccine debate rages on, it is important for one to educate themselves on the issue. No matter what side one is on regarding vaccination, it is imperative to truly understand how vaccines work and the potential risks involved, and why there is an ongoing debate to begin with. For instance, the current measles outbreak has affected 171 people across 17 States since this year started. This year we saw a record number of cases with 644 people infected across 27 states (cdc.gov/measles). This is alarming for a couple reasons; one being that we were told in 2000 that measles was eliminated in the U.S.; second, a majority of the cases were individuals who were previously vaccinated for measles.
However, this scenario is not historically unique. In 1984, 21 cases of measles were reported in Sangamon County, Illinois, in which 100% of the people infected were adequately vaccinated. Another study in 1994 found that measles outbreaks still occurred in school populations despite having between 71-98.8% of those affected immunized(1). Yet another example took place in 2011, where 98 Canadians became infected with measles, with 50% of those having received two doses of the vaccine(5). So the question must be asked, why are those who should be protected still becoming sick and infected? The answer lies within the measles vaccine itself, that’s why its important to understand exactly how it operates.
There are mainly two types of vaccines routinely used: live, attenuated vaccines; or inactivated vaccines. The live vaccines include the MMR, chickenpox and the typhoid vaccine. The inactivated vaccines include the flu shot, the polio vaccine and the pertussis vaccine. Both types of vaccines are intended to induce immunologic memory and protect from disease when exposed to the ‘wild’ version of the virus/bacteria. However, as we will discuss later, this is not always the case.
Measles is a viral infection that causes symptoms typical of most viral infections including fever, cough, runny nose, fatigue, and a skin rash that appears as small red dots with white centers(1). Symptoms generally leave in a week or two and like most viral infections, it is not deadly to those who are well nourished and not immunocompromised. The real danger is to infants, who are still developing an immune system and are unable to inherit natural immunity from a vaccinated mother (more to be discussed on this later).
Measles epidemics were common occurrences during the 1800’s in developing countries like the U.K. and the United States. The epidemics were often deadly, with some reports of 20% fatality rates among children(1). However, as time went on, sanitation standards were vastly improved – like cleaner water and safer sewage removal – thus deterring the spread of many infectious diseases(4). Nutrition greatly improved as well, and as more people became what we call the “middle class”, mass starvation was something only seen in the non-industrialized world. A downward trend in mortality from infectious diseases was already taking place many years before medicine like penicillin was widely used in 1944(1). By the 1960’s, with modern nutrition standards commonplace in the developed world, a sharp decline in measles cases were observed even before the vaccine was introduced(1). So, in 1963, when the first vaccine was licensed, measles was already not the danger it once was. For instance, in 1960, the official number of fatalities due to measles was 380. With the population approaching 181 million at that time, the mortality rate was equal to about 0.24 per 100,000(1). So why then, did we need to create a vaccine? Well, if you are Merck and Co., there is money to be made!
The original vaccine was an inactivated virus, which was hugely unsuccessful for a number of reasons: one being the immunity seemed to wane quickly and secondly, complications rising from pneumonia, encephalopathy, and a more severe form of measles called atypical measles(1). Shortly after, a live version of the vaccine was introduced and became more widely used between 1965 and 1967. The live vaccine contains an attenuated virus, meaning it undergoes changes to make it less virulent and ‘hopefully’ not disease-causing. However, the attenuation process is highly inconsistent and not totally error proof, so the virus may remain virulent to some degree and still cause disease(2). Therefore, the vaccine can cause measles infection, also known as “modified measles,” which is likely to be the cause of the recent outbreaks. So it can be reasonably assumed that it is not the natural or wild version of measles causing the outbreaks, but rather the vaccine strain. Yet day after day we hear in the media how it is the children who weren’t vaccinated that are causing the outbreaks, but what evidence do they have to really prove this? The media neglects to ever mention or consider the vaccine strain as possibly the culprit of the outbreaks.
Furthermore, evidence shows that the vaccine strain of measles is not necessarily cleared totally from the body, thus it can cause disease and also be contagious(1). This vaccine that induced measles, or “modified measles”, was first discovered in the early 1960’s when the live vaccine was first being used, but it was always assumed that it would only be a subclinical manifestation without severe symptoms. Unfortunately, it has been repeatedly shown to cause disease (like in the outbreaks previously mentioned) and even the more virulent atypical measles(1).
However, “modified measles” isn’t the only problem associated with the vaccine. For instance, the vaccine strain has been found in urine and various blood cells and immune cells of patients with autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune hepatitis(2). Thus, there is evidence that the vaccine strain can persist in the body for many years and cause disease rather than offer protection.
Yet, to me, the biggest issue is the loss of natural immunity that mass vaccination has created, particularly since the 1960’s. Natural immunity, unlike vaccine induced immunity, is generally ‘lifetime protection’. Vaccine immunity wanes over time, it may last up to 25 years, but some research predicts it may even be lost in as little as 10 years(1). Therefore, vaccines may only postpone the onset of contracting a given disease that immunizations are intended for. Natural immunity comes after exposure to the wild virus or bacteria by means of natural occurrence and not artificial immunity(4). Antibodies from natural immunity are much more effective at clearing a pathogen from the body, and can be passed naturally from mother to child via the placenta and breast milk(2). Vaccine induced antibodies are not produced in the mammary gland, so they cannot be transferred via breast milk. Mucosal, or natural exposure to a virus via the mucous membranes, is needed to transfer immunity by breast-feeding. Vaccinated mothers also have less antibodies in the blood compared to naturally acquired immunity, hence the placenta is also an unreliable source to transfer any vaccinated immunity the mother may have(2). Consequently, infants are at a dire risk for contracting measles if born to a vaccinated mother because they are unable to acquire any immunity that would protect them. Thanks to vaccines, with mass vaccination beginning in the 60’s, most people were not allowed to contract measles at a safe age and therefore pass on natural protection to their offspring(2). Infants are particularly susceptible to disease due to their under-developed immune systems and therefore it is not practical to give a newborn a live vaccine. We have created a generation that will be born without the protection they need from a virus that is still around thanks to the idea of artificial immunity.
Is the measles vaccine justified? Why was it created in the first place? How do we know how effective it actually is? More research needs to be done to really get a definitive answer, but we cannot look past how much money vaccines make for the industry, so undoubtedly profit is a big and driving force. As far as the effectiveness goes, we must remember that, for obvious ethical reasons, vaccines cannot be tested by way of randomized control trials like other medications. Their effectiveness is based on how well it makes the individual produce antibodies and statistical data collected after it’s unleashed upon the public(2). Nonetheless, there is an ever increasing movement to make vaccination mandatory and subject to law, but we cannot forget the questions that vaccines continue to bring up and the rights we have as individuals. The debate rages on.
“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” – John F. Kennedy
1. Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and the Forgotten History. Humphries, Suzanne and Bystrianyk, Roman, 2013
2. Vaccine Illusion: How Vaccination Compromises our Natural Immunity and What we can do to Regain our Health. Obukhanych, Tetyana, 2011
3. Vaccine Epidemic. Habakus, Louise Kuo, et al. Skyhorse Publishing, 2012
4. Anyone Who tells You Vaccines are Safe and Effective is Lying. Here’s the Proof. Coleman, Vernon. European Medical Journal, 2011
5. Poland, Gregory A., and Robert M. Jacobson. “The Re-Emergence of Measles in Developed Countries: Time to Develop the Next-Generation Measles Vaccines?” Vaccine 30.2 (2012): 103–104. PMC. Web.