The current measles outbreak in the U.S., the biggest outbreak in almost 20 years, has become more than a public health crisis. It’s become a simmering political debate, about the safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and the government’s role in mandating children be given the vaccine. Potential GOP presidential contenders Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul sparked controversy by raising questions about personal choice in vaccines. Even presumptive Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton backtracked from her 2008 statement on a possible link between vaccines and autism. Amid all the controversy, here’s what some of the leading medical organizations and publications say about the safety of the MMR, along with some facts about this controversial vaccine.
5. “The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014
The CDC notes that mild to severe problems can affect certain people. Roughly 1 in 6 can expect a temporary fever after receiving the MMR, while 1 in 20 can expect a mild rash; at the other end of the spectrum, 1 in a million can expect a serious allergic reaction, while other more severe problems, such as deafness, coma, or permanent brain damage, are, according to the CDC, “so rare that it is hard to tell whether they are caused by the vaccine.” Meanwhile, an average of 450 people died of measles in the U.S. each year between 1956-1960, before the vaccine was introduced.
4. “Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.”
— World Health Organization, 2014
The WHO reports that there were 145,700 measles-related deaths worldwide in 2013. Most were children under the age of 5. But an emphasis on getting the vaccine to countries around the world prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths from 2000 to 2013.
3. “The measles vaccine is safe and effective. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to have their children immunized against measles, as well as other infectious diseases.”
– Dr. Errol R. Alden, Executive Director/CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics
The AAP, which represents 62,000 pediatricians in the U.S., notes that for every 1,000 people who get measles, 1 to 2 will die — a mortality rate far exceeding the rate for deaths cited by anti-vaccine advocates.
2. “Article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent”
Headline in the British Medical Journal, 2011
The research supposedly linking the MMR vaccine to an increased risk of autism first appeared in 1998 in the British medical journal The Lancet. Lead researcher Andrew Wakefield claimed that his and fellow researchers’ study of 12 children found that the MMR vaccine was “associated” with autism spectrum disorders. As news of the study spread, vaccine rates in the UK and other developed nations plummeted. However, other researchers soon began picking apart Wakefield’s research, and found that the data had been manipulated and was unethical. Critics also pointed out that Wakefield had a serious conflict of interest, through his involvement in a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers. The Lancet fully retracted the article in 2010, and Wakefield’s medical license was revoked. Still, years later, medical professionals blame that fraudulent study almost 20 years ago with the lasting decline in vaccination for many diseases, not just the MMR.
1. “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”
— Statement released Feb. 4 by autism advocacy group Autism Speaks
One More: “The alleged autism-vaccine connection is, perhaps, the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.”
— The conclusion of a study published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy in 2013
More: Lawsuits Claiming Link Between MMR and Autism
Here’s a link to the United States Court of Federal Claims and a dozen MMR/autism lawsuits settled in recent years.
The author has been a contributor for several health websites, and has written several articles on vaccine safety.