In November, cases of measles in Wales began increasing. Throughout April, the number of measles cases continued to rise and one man died. Last week the number of cases rose again, reaching 1,243 total across Wales.
Fifteen years ago, many parents chose not to vaccinate their children because Andrew Wakefield linked vaccines to autism in a 1998 report in the Lancet. His work has since been discredited and he was stripped of his medical license, however many children in this era were never vaccinated. Young people aged 10 to 18 have been the hardest hit by the measles outbreak in Wales because they missed this key vaccine as infants.
Health officials are now concerned about the area of Gwent in Wales, where 84 measles cases have been reported since November. There are about 10,000 people aged 10 to 18 in Gwent that aren’t vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
“It should be remembered that in 2011, we only saw 19 measles cases in the whole of Wales for the whole year,” Dr. Marion Lyons, the director of health protection for Public Health Wales states. “The 84 cases in Gwent are a huge concern to us and with 10,000 children still in need of vaccination, we are warning young people and parents not to be complacent just because they don’t live in the outbreak area.”
Since the outbreak began, more than 43,000 non-routine MMR vaccines have been given, reducing the number of unvaccinated children by 46%. However, 38,000 children in Wales remain unvaccinated, prompting concern among health officials about future outbreaks. Health officials have also estimated there are two million school children total in Britain who didn’t receive the vaccine when they were infants. A campaign was conducted earlier in the year to vaccinate one million of these children.
“It’s encouraging to see so many parents bringing their children for vaccination now who refused the vaccine in the past, and we must keep this up if we are going to see an end to the current outbreak and have the best chance of preventing more outbreaks in the future,” Dr. Lyons continues.
MMR is administered in two doses, the first dose provides 90% protection and with both doses, there is 99% protection. Measles is highly contagious with a rash and fever, as well as feeling poorly. Complications can include blindness, severe diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, or in extreme cases, death.
Dr. Sarah Wollaston is a former general practitioner and is a member of parliament representing Totnes, near Devon, where 30% of 5 year olds haven’t received both doses. With herd immunity, if 95% of children in a community are vaccinated the community is protected from outbreak. “The real ‘herd’ effect may be an unwarranted fear that vaccination is harmful or the belief that ‘natural’ methods like homeopathy can boost a child’s immunity and thereby offer a safe alternative to protect against that virus,” she explains.
“The MMR is a well-tested vaccine and offers protection against three of the most infectious childhood diseases,” Dr. Sam Barrell, a Brixham general practitioner states. “Measles is highly infectious and while most get over it quickly, for some it can have life-changing consequences.”
The tragic harm caused by Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent research continues to fuel vaccination fears and misinformation. It may take decades of education to undo this damage.