An event has happened that’s made me write the post I know will be my most controversial. One of the mums at Boy’s school has just been released from hospital after a terrible time with measles. There have been a lot of texts from the school and her child has been kept off school. This is just the sort of thing that should not be happening in the UK today and yet it has.
To me, vaccinating children should not be controversial and yet, when the local paper reported the last measles outbreak in Brighton, it’s message board went in to meltdown. I have never read a longer thread. Clearly not only the MMR but vaccination in general is still, for some, a controversial subject. Which is nuts.
So let’s deal with them as two separate issues. Firstly vaccination in general. Our kids have had every jab they’re entitled to. The evidence for the benefits is all around us. Like the eradication of smallpox. Like the fact that the BCG (the vaccination turkey that voted for Christmas) has eradicated TB in countries that gave it so successfully it is no longer given in them. Conversely where it is not given TB remains. Same with Polio immunisation. And then there’s Bill Gates. Not so long ago he pledged 10 billion dollars to save 8 million children by creating vaccination programs in the Third World through his foundation. I don’t think the guy who created Microsoft is going to have a 10 billion dollar bet with poor children’s lives frankly.
Those who oppose vaccination on the other hand tend to come back to one name. Dr Viera Scheibner. So let’s have a look at a page from her. Here’s her Wikipedia page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viera_Scheibner
Yes Wikipedia. I know. Not 100% reliable, editable by anyone. So I have been back to this page a number of times and certain facts on there about this anti-vaccination “hero” have never changed. Namely:
- Her only qualifications are in Geology and Palaeontology
- Her analysis is constantly challenged and considered sloppy and dishonest
- She claimed a direct link between vaccination and SIDS. The only link is that vaccination reduces SIDS risk.
- She withheld data showing Japanese Pertussis mortality increased 800% in the five years following the pause in Pertussis vaccination in Japan . (Evidence in the wiki footnote)
But now the MMR itself. Slightly more tricky. Firstly there’s the furore around the link between MMR and autism. This is a tricky one for a parent for not many of us are scientists and wherever you look – however discredited Andrew Wakefield and his study – it is ‘out there’. If the disappearance of smallpox, TB et al are obvious signs that vaccination in general works then the anecdotal evidence regarding MMR and autism is more problematic for signs of autism first show up around the time the MMR is due.
For me as a parent this meant reading. I started with this study on the World Health Organisation website. Note this is not the NHS – this is the World Health Authority. When Boy was due his MMR Andrew Wakefield had not yet been struck off in the UK as he has now. Therefore we did something additional. We asked my GP, if she would give her own child the MMR. She would and had. After that it was trust in her and the WHO and our own instincts that made the decision for us.
I have since read an excellent book on autism by Kamran Nazeer (himself an autistic) called Send In The Idiots that backs up the fact that Wakefield’s evidence was flawed and suggests reasons for it. Namely that equally flawed theories abounded at the time that autism was somehow down to bad parenting. Clearly that is ridiculous but, of course, a study showing it was instead linked to MMR would be gold to any parent previously guilt-tripping themselves for something clearly not down to them.
There are, undoubtedly, side effects and risks with the MMR however. My experience with our two was good but I have a very good GP who specialised in paediatrics. What happened with our two is what should happen in every case and it is thus:
- The doctor / nurse giving the jab should be able to explain the side effects and the contents of the inoculation.
- There is a risk of anaphylactic shock immediately after. Your GP should ask you to stay in the waiting room for 10 – 15 minutes afterwards so it can be dealt with there.
- There is a risk of fever in the days after as a side effect. Boy got one. Baby didn’t. (I, however, got mumps when I was 6 and it was an absolute bastard. Constant sore throat, immense pain, fever and quarantine for over a week. Boy’s fever was more like a bad cold and over in a day. And measles is much worse than mumps.)
Make sure your GP surgery can do all of these things before they get a needle near your Little One. If they can’t then don’t refuse the jab – change GP and get it done by your new one.
There is also a well known MMR compensation case. It’s worth bringing it up here as it was another thing I looked at. The full judgement, while finding MMR culpable in this one-off cause of epilepsy, makes it clear there is no link between MMR and autism. You can read it here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-11125343. It is also worth noting here that this is the only case of note in the UK. Meanwhile one in 10 measles cases require hospitalization and the measles death rate in the UK is one in 5000 (source http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Measles.htm)
I have written this not because I am a Doctor or a Scientist. I am not. I am an ordinary parent who faced, along with my partner, a choice I felt unqualified for and yet one that every parent in the UK has to make. I have documented my thought process and experiences. They won’t be everyone’s but they’re ours and we’re proud of them. Boy is now thriving at school and I am glad to say I was one of the parents who was not worried for him when we got the text from the school. Just worried for the family affected – affected by a disease that should, by now, be on the extinct list.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Wikipedia (evidence for the quotes was on the wiki page as at March 24 2012)
World Health Organisation
Send In The Idiots by Kamran Nazeer (Bloomsbury Publishing 2006/7) excerpt paraphrased.