Truth and reason are two of the first casualties of the measles outbreak in South Wales and the accompanying hysteria. Here are the simple facts that the media's not telling you.
Pity the poor parent trying to get anywhere close to the truth about the real dangers of measles and the safety of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine in the wake of the media hysteria that has been sparked following the measles outbreak in South Wales.
Any voice of dissent or concern has been silenced in the media's headlong rush to distance itself from its own headlines of 12 years ago that screamed, with a similar volume, that the vaccine caused autism.
Journalists have forsaken their role as interrogators of our health guardians and instead have become their mouthpiece and are broadcasting, without question, such 'facts' as:
-Measles is a killer disease that may kill hundreds of people in South Wales and elsewhere across the UK.
-The current outbreak is the direct result of parents refusing the vaccination for their children because of the unproven, and now discredited, theory that the MMR is linked to autism.
-The MMR is a safe and effective safeguard against measles.
Here are the real facts about each of the statements:
Measles is a killer
It's true-measles can be a killer, but usually only in the malnourished and those whose immune systems are compromised. VivienneParry, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the UK government on vaccine policy, told parentsin2007:"Ifwehadmeasles,it wouldkilllotsofpeople."
In fact, measles is always with us and around 3,000 cases are recorded every year; yet despite Ms Parry's stark warnings, no child has died from measles since 1992 other than one tragic case in 2008 when a child with congenital immunodeficiency sadly died.
The last time measles was considered lethal was in 1980, when 26 deaths were attributed to the disease-but the figures are unreliable and perhaps overinflated, as none of the cases was clinically proven. Clinical testing was introduced only in 1995, when the number of measles cases dropped dramatically from 16,375 the previous year to just 7,447.
Give them an A
Aid workers know something that our health guardians in the West won't tell us: vitamin A protects against the worst effects of measles and, because of this, these supplements are handed out to malnourished children in the developing countries.
The vitamin feeds the body's natural defences against infectious diseases, including measles. Other than from supplements, it's also found in many foods that aren't readily available in the developing countries-or enjoyed by children in the West. In fact, foods rich in vitamin A read like a roll call of what's left on the side of the plate: dark-green leafy vegetables, spinach, sweet potatoes and liver.
Although vitamin A deficiency is seen as a problem in the developing world-where night blindness is among the first symptoms-epidemiologist Dr Alfred Sommer, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, has demonstrated that the problem is far closer to home.
His work has established that even mild, subclinical deficiency-where there are no obvious symptoms-can affect the body's ability to fight infections. Without this natural defence, measles can become a serious disease, with complications like ear infections, respiratory problems, convulsions and meningitis-and even death.
So, how many of our children are deficient in vitamin A and are they more vulnerable to the worst complications of measles?
Vaccine uptake and autism
With the current hysteria over a possible measles epidemic, the MMR is enjoying a honeymoon period with UK parents, and take-up rates are rising rapidly.
Although rates fell dramatically with the autism'scare',it was just the latest of a series of health concerns about the jab that date back to the 1970s after newly vaccinated children mysteriously died.
The first major fall in take-up rates occurred far earlier than the publication ofthe1998AndrewWakefieldpaperthat suggested an association between the MMR and autism-parents had their first worries about the vaccine in 1992 after the mumps component of the MMR vaccine was found to cause meningitis and encephalitis. Children in Canada and Japan had died a year earlier after being given the vaccine.
Experts say the vaccine most definitely does not cause autism-but are they right? The latest study attempting to disprove any link has been funded by America's health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and was designed to finally put to rest parents' continued concerns. By analyzing blood samples from 256 children with autism and 752 healthy children of similar ages, researchers concluded that the MMR did not cause autism.
However, no such conclusion canbe drawn. The CDC researchers used data that had been discredited two years earlier, and their analysis was so loose that the results could suggest anything from the possibility that the vaccine had a 69 per cent protective effect-in other words, roughly two out of every three children given the vaccine could be less likely to develop autism-to a 472 per cent causative effect, suggesting that children were nearly five times more likely to develop autism after the vaccination.
The safest interpretation is that the MMR increases the risk of autism by5 per cent-but that's still a statistical sleight of hand because the reality is that it has zero effect in most children, but is a definite cause in a small minority.
So why are some children more likely to develop autism after vaccination? One theory suggests that children deficient in vitamin B12 are the most vulnerable; an important clue is the fact that autistic children usually suffer from methylmalonic acid in their blood or urine, a red-flag condition for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Aside from laboratory analysis, suspected cases of autism are not being reported by doctors. One mother, Sarah McKenzie-Jones from Tonbridge in Kent,saidher14-month-oldsonreacted badly to the MMR vaccine and suffered from vomiting, a measles-like rashall over his body and diarrhoea. The diarrhoea persisted for three years. "The doctor assessed it as a severe reaction at the time, and I expected that to go into his notes and for it to be recorded as an adverse reaction in some form of notification...it was not recorded."
Her son went on to develop autism when he was three, but the doctor denied there was any link to the MMR and would not report it."I have shared my story with other parents, only to find this is a common theme," she said.
The JCVI's Vivienne Parry was mentioned at the beginning of this article. Quoting from the same comment,she also said:"There's a small risk with all vaccines. No one has ever said that any vaccine is completely without side-effects. If you have a vaccine, it will damage some children, but a very small number."
This is, of course, true, yet neither the National Health Service nor the Health Protection Agency websites say as much. They both reassure parents that the vaccine is safe and that "the vaccine has been used safely around the world".
Even Merck & Co, the manufacturer of one of the available MMR vaccines, admits its vaccine can cause any of 39 serious reactions, including autism and death. This information is included in the package insert sent to doctors, but which is rarely shown to parents.
But does the vaccine at least offerthe lifelong immunity promised bythe health agencies? Evidently not. Measles and mumps outbreaks are common among groups of vaccinated children-even though the Department of Health maintains that cases are being reported only in the unvaccinated.Our correspondent in South Wales, who is also a pharmacist, tells us that three adolescents she knows whohave developed measles in the current outbreak had all been vaccinated, and she is sure there are many cases among vaccinated children. The local health authority in South Wales refuses to reveal just how many children who have measles had been vaccinated.
Doctors at the Direct Health 2000 private clinic in Eltham, London, discovered something similar when they took blood samples from 50 recently vaccinated children; in half the children, immunity was low or zero against measles and mumps. Sarah Dean, a director at the clinic, said: "This means there could be a lot of children who think they have got the umbrella protection to the three diseases by having the MMR, but their bodies have not built up immunity to measles or mumps."
It's not an unusual phenomenon. America's CDC accepts that "measles transmission has been clearly documented among vaccinated persons. In some large outbreaks. . .over 95 per cent of cases have a history of vaccination."
Truth and reason have becomethe first casualties in the hysteria surrounding the measles outbreaks in South Wales. But until health agencies start treating parents as responsible adults-and show them how to protect against measles' worst excesses while admitting to the adverse reactions that can happen to the vaccinated child- the MMR controversy will never completely go away.
Give them a B
Scientists are beginning to suspect thatthe key to understanding the link between the MMR vaccine and autism is vitaminB12 deficiency. Many autistic children have methylmalonic acid in the blood and urine, a condition that is a marker of deficiencyof a vitamin that is vital for the healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system.
Children who are already deficient in B12 when they are vaccinated could be even more susceptible and so more liable to develop autism.
There are five major ways for people to become B12-deficient:
- if their stomach lining is damaged because of ulcers, Helicobactor pylori infection or surgery
- if they have low stomach-acid production, which can also be caused by digestive aids such as antacids
- if they suffer from dysbiosis, an imbalance in the bacterial flora that normally live in the small intestine
- if their diet is poor and they don't supplement with B12 tablets
- if they have been exposed to nitrous oxide-or 'laughing gas'-anaesthesia, used in dental surgeries and hospitals.
Typical symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, malaise, vertigo and cognitive impairment, such as an inability to problem- solve.
A blood test is the foolproof way tocheck for deficiency, and some doctors are advocating that every child suspected of having a deficiency should be tested before getting the MMR.
What Merck tells doctors-but not you
Here are some of the reactions that Merck admits the MMR can cause in inserts given to doctors, but not patients:
-Seizures and convulsions
-Partial or total blindness
-Otitis media (ear ache)
-Blood clotting disorders
-Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease
-MMR vaccine is introduced
-JCVI told of gut reactions similar to those observed by Andrew Wakefield 10 years later
-Rate of autism is one in 2,500 children
-First reports appear in the media of a possible link to autism
-Andrew Wakefield publishes his paper and in the subsequent press conference mentions a possible link to autism
-'Last-word'studies are published and establish no link to autism
-Andrew Wakefield found guilty of research fraud and is struck off as a doctor
-Courts in Italy and America award damages to the parents of children who developed autism after having the MMR
-Rate of autism at one in 50 children