Preventable diseases are on the rise because of fears of vaccines

8 Feb

Michaeleen Doucleff reported in the NPR story, How Vaccine Fears Fueled The Resurgence Of Preventable Diseases:

For most of us, measles and whooping cough are diseases of the past. You get a few shots as a kid and then hardly think about them again.
But that’s not the case in all parts of the world — not even parts of the U.S.
As an interactive map from the Council on Foreign Relations illustrates, several diseases that are easily prevented with vaccines have made a comeback in the past few years. Their resurgence coincides with changes in perceptions about vaccine safety.
Since 2008 folks at the think tank CFR have been plotting all the cases of measles, mumps, rubella, polio and whooping cough around the world. Each circle on the map represents a local outbreak of a particular disease, while the size of the circle indicates the number of people infected in the outbreak.
As you flip through the various maps over the years, two trends clearly emerge: Measles has surged back in Europe, while whooping cough is has become a problem here in the U.S.
Childhood immunization rates plummeted in parts of Europe and the U.K. after a 1998 study falsely claimed that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to autism.
That study has since been found to be fraudulent. But fears about vaccine safety have stuck around in Europe and here in the U.S.
Viruses and bacteria have taken full advantage of the immunization gaps.
In 2011, France reported a massive measles outbreak with nearly 15,000 cases. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Somalia suffered larger measles outbreaks that year.
In 2012, the U.K. reported more than 2,000 measles cases, the largest number since 1994.
Here in the U.S., the prevalence of whooping cough shot up in 2012 to nearly 50,000 cases. Last year cases declined to about 24,000 — which is still more than tenfold the number reported back in the early ’80s when the bacteria infected less than 2,000 people.
So what about countries in Africa? Why are there so many big, colorful circles dotting the continent? For many parents there, the problem is getting access to vaccines, not fears of it.

There are many myths regarding vaccination of children.

Dina Fine Maron wrote in the Daily Beast article, 6 Top Vaccine Myths:

To sort through the onslaught of information and misinformation about childhood immunizations, we asked Austin, Texas-based pediatrician Ari Brown, coauthor of “Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for your Baby’s First Year,” to debunk some of the most common vaccination myths.
Myth 1: It’s not necessary to vaccinate kids against diseases that have been largely eradicated in the United States.
Reality: Although some diseases like polio and diphtheria aren’t often seen in America (in large part because of the success of the vaccination efforts), they can be quite common in other parts of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if we were not protected by vaccinations, these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population. At the same time, the relatively few cases currently in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines. Brown warns that these diseases haven’t disappeared, “they are merely smoldering under the surface.”
Most parents do follow government recommendations: U.S. national immunization rates are high, ranging from 85 percent to 93 percent, depending on the vaccine, according to the CDC. But according to a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the 20 states that allow personal-belief opt outs in addition to religious exemptions saw exemptions grow by 61 percent, to 2.54 percent between 1991 and 2004.
Brown is concerned that parents who opt out or stagger the vaccine schedule can end up having to deal with confusing follow-up care, which could produce an increase in disease outbreaks like last summer’s measles epidemic. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that when there are more exemptions, children are at an increased risk of contracting and transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases.
For more on the pros and cons of staggering or skipping vaccinations, visit MSN’s guide or read this U.S. News and World Report piece. For information on vaccine safety, check out the CDC’s information page. To search for your state’s vaccine requirements, see the National Network for Immunization Information.
Myth 2: Mercury is still in kids’ vaccines.
Reality: At the center of this issue is a preservative called thimerosal (a compound containing mercury) that once was a common component in many vaccines because it allowed manufacturers to make drugs more cheaply and in multidose formulations. But public concern, new innovations and FDA recommendations led to its removal from almost all children’s vaccines manufactured after 2001. (More thimerosal background can be found at the FDA’s Web site) Since flu vaccines are not just for children, manufacturers still put thimerosal in some flu-shot formulations. You can ask your pediatrician for the thimerosal-free version, says Brown.
If your child does not have asthma and is at least 2 years old, Brown recommends the FluMist nasal-spray vaccination over the flu shot. “It seems to have better immune protection and it could help your child avoid another shot,” she says. (Caveat: the spray does contain a live version of the virus, which can result in a slight increase in flulike symptoms).
Myth 3: Childhood vaccines cause autism.
Reality: There is no scientific evidence that this link exists. Groups of experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), agree that vaccines are not responsible for the growing number of children now recognized to have autism.
Earlier this month, the law supported scientists’ conclusions in this arena with three rulings from a section of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which stated that vaccines were not the likely cause of autism in three unrelated children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an online statement following the ruling, “The medical and scientific communities have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the evidence concerning the vaccine-autism theory and have found no association between vaccines and autism.” Noting the volume of scientific evidence disproving this link, an executive member of one of the nation’s foremost autism advocacy groups, Autism Speaks, recently stepped down from her position because she disagrees with the group’s continued position that there is a connection between the vaccines and autism.
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Myth 4: Getting too many vaccines can overwhelm the immune system and cause adverse reactions or even serious illness.
Reality: Children’s immune systems are capable of combating far more antigens (weak or killed viruses) than they encounter via immunizations. In fact, the jury is still out on if there’s an actual limit on how many the body can handle—though one study puts the number around a theoretical 10,000 vaccines in one day.(Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ site or the Network for Immunization Information for more information)
Currently, “There is even less of a burden on the immune system [via vaccines] today than 40 years ago,” says Edgar Marcuse, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington who works on immunization policy and vaccines. He points to the whooping-cough vaccine as an example where there are far fewer antigens in the shot than the earlier version administered decades ago. Brown says she supports following the recommended schedule for vaccinations, which outlines getting as many as five shots in one day at a couple check-ups. (The CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule can be found here.) “I have kids, and I wouldn’t recommend doing anything for my patients that I wouldn’t do for my own kids,” she says.
The CDC reports that most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever and “so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically.” Of all deaths reported to the Health and Human Services’ Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting site between 1990 and 1992, only one is believed to be even possibly associated with a vaccine. The Vaccine Safety Datalink Project, an initiative of the CDC and eight health-care organizations, looks for patterns in these reports and determines if a vaccine is causing a side effect or if symptoms are largely coincidental.
If you have concerns about following the recommended vaccination, schedule don’t wait until a check-up. Set up a consultation appointment with your pediatrician, or even outline a strategy for care with your doctor during your pregnancy.
Myth 5: It’s better to let my kid get chickenpox “naturally.”
Reality: Before the chickenpox vaccine was licensed in 1995, parents sometimes brought their child to a party or playground hoping that their child might brush up against a pox-laden kid to get their dose of chickenpox over since cases were usually less severe for children than adults. But pediatricians say severe complications are possible with chickenpox—including bacterial infections that could result in a child’s hospitalization or death. (More information on the chickenpox vaccine is available at the CDC’s Web site.)
Now that there’s a vaccine for chickenpox, more than 45 states require the shots (unless your child already had the chicken pox or can prove natural immunity). Two shots usually guarantees your child a way out of being bedecked in calamine lotion for two feverish weeks, but some individuals do still come down with a milder form of the pox. Most pediatricians recommend getting the shot.
Myth 6: The flu shot causes the flu.
Reality: The flu shot does not contain a live virus, so your child can’t get the flu from this shot. But, after the shot, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit achy while the immune system mounts its response. Remember that for two weeks following the shot, your child can still get the flu, so be sure to help your child avoid that feverish kid next door.

A question in the current climate is what can be done to make parents responsible for putting other children at risk.

Jed Lipinksi wrote in the Slate article, Endangering the Herd: The case for suing:

As you’d expect, the growing anti-vaccination movement responded in fury. After Caplan wrote a related post for the Harvard Law Blog, angry comments poured in. “This article is industry propaganda at its worst,” one commenter declared. Another wrote: “Caplan would have familiar company in fascist Germany.” The blog eventually shut down the comments for violations of the site’s policies against “abusive and defamatory language” and the sharing of personal information.
Here’s why the anti-vaxxers are wrong and Caplan and his co-authors are right to raise the idea of suing or criminally charging them: Parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids for reasons of personal belief pose a serious danger to the public.
Measles vaccines are about 95 percent effective when given to children. That leaves a 5 percent chance that kids who are vaccinated will contract measles. This means that no matter what, the disease still poses a public health risk, but we rely on others to get vaccinated to hugely reduce the likelihood of outbreaks. That’s the process known as herd immunity.
Unvaccinated children threaten the herd. Take the San Diego measles outbreak of 2008. After unknowingly contracting the disease on a trip to Switzerland, an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy infected 11 other unvaccinated kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of the cases occurred in kids whose parents had requested personal belief exemptions (or PBEs) through the state of California, one of 17 states to allow them. But three of the infected were either too young or medically unable to be vaccinated. And overall, 48 children too young to be vaccinated were quarantined, at an average cost to the family of $775 per child. The CDC noted that all 11 cases were “linked epidemiologically” to the 7-year-old boy and that the outbreak response cost the public sector $10,376 per case.
Today, several states blame a rise in preventable diseases on the declining child vaccination rates. In Michigan, less than 72 percent of children have received their state-mandated measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines. In New York, as Caplan noted in his blog post, pockets of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community are experiencing a mini measles epidemic. Thirty cases have been confirmed so far. According to Dr. Yu Shia Lin of Maimonides Medical Center, some members of the community avoid the measles vaccine because they think it causes autism. The most visible proponent of this idea, former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy, will receive a giant new platform for her viewpoints when she joins the daytime gossipfest The View on Sept. 9.
The belief that the MMR vaccine causes autism goes back to a 1998 study published in the Lancet by a British gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield. In 2010, after years of criticism, the journal finally retracted Wakefield’s study, announcing that it was “utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false.” Britain’s General Medical Council later revoked Wakefield’s medical license, noting that he’d failed to disclose his role as a paid consultant to lawyers representing parents who thought vaccines had harmed their kids. The CDC makes clear there is no connection between vaccines and autism.
Yet this dangerous idea persists. Often, it persists among people who are simply doing what they think is best for their kids. Which is why it’s necessary to take extra measures to ensure nonvaccinators understand the risk they pose to other people’s children….
There are legal obstacles to penalizing parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. Courts are generally less likely to impose liability on someone who fails to act than they are on someone who acts recklessly. Also, proving cause and effect will sometimes be difficult. Then again, to win damages, a plaintiff would only have to prove that it’s “more likely than not” that a nonvaccinated child infected another person.parents who don’t vaccinate their kids—or criminally charging them….


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