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With vaccine avoidance, measles risk skyrockets

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / April 15, 2019
In 1998, a British physician made a startling claim in The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals: that measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism in children. Thus the modern anti-vaccination movement was born.

Years later, the article was exposed as fraudulent and its author, Andrew Wakefield, barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. Further investigation revealed that Wakefield stood to profit from dubious methods for treating childhood diseases that vaccinations had all but wiped out.

The Lancet article was a shocking hoax — in 2012, Time Magazine named Wakefield to its list of “Great Science Frauds” — but its impact lives on, a tale of pseudoscience that’s well-known to Dr. Anne Lombardi, pediatrician at Sentara Halifax Pediatrics in South Boston.

“It was completely made up, and it started the problem,” said Lombardi.

Prior to the development of the MMR combination vaccine, measles was the world’s leading killer of children worldwide. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control declared that measles had been eradicated in America.

Now it’s back.

Through April 4, the CDC reported 465 instances of measles in the U.S., a rate of infection that’s on track to shatter the 2014 high-water mark of 667 cases, roughly half of those localized to unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Last week, a measles case was confirmed in Baltimore; New York City has declared a public health emergency and ordered mandatory vaccinations after measles broke out in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Low levels of vaccination invite the spread of measles, which is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia, permanent hearing loss and brain damage. “Measles is not just a rash,” said Lombardi.

In Halifax County, those who believe that vaccines are dangerous — “anti-vaxxers” is the common term of description — are “definitely a small portion of our population,” said Lombardi. “Anti-vax is a disease of the upper middle class and upper class. Of course, we live in a poor county.”

In places like Northern Virginia, distrust of vaccines is often the result of a torrent of disinformation coming from seemingly reputable sources: professionally-done websites and social media pages, science- and tech-world influencers, even political action committees quietly funded by anti-vax millionaires and billionaires.

In areas like Halifax County, however, those most likely to reject the science of vaccination are families of home-schooled children. Pupils entering public school are required to receive a mix of vaccines, although exceptions are made for medical reasons and in cases where families opt out of the law by citing their religious beliefs.

Across the board, however, the share of Virginia youths that has been immunized against disease is dropping — leaving children at risk and weakening the “herd immunity” that keeps disease from spreading throughout the population. Vaccination not only protects the person getting the shots — it is a life-saver for infants, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated, or whose immunity may not hold up over time.

“We really need to pay attention to the issue of herd immunity,” said Dr. Scott Spillmann, director of the Southside Health District, based in Boydton. “My sense is there is a growing body of the population that is questioning the value of vaccines, and is not accepting the standard of science and going with information that is not as scientifically valid.

“The proof is in the pudding — people who have been vaccinated have lower levels of disease and lower levels of complications from disease,” he added.

Despite the evidence, “not everybody goes along with it. I wish they would.”

Lombardi says she encounters the same dangerous skepticism at her practice: “It’s just sad to me that people will put their children at risk that way. It’s not just their children, either” — because of how herd immunity works, anything that weakens vaccination levels across the full population “places other people at risk,” said Lombardi.

While she hasn’t treated patients for measles and mumps here in Halifax, Lombardi got a first-hand look at the ravages of preventable childhood disease while doing her medical residency at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. The pediatric hospital operates a center for vaccine development and provides specialized treatment of children in the U.S. and all over the world who end up there because they haven’t been immunized.

“I’ve seen a child die of vaccine-preventable disease. I’ve seen a child suffer severe neurological damage from vaccine-preventable disease,” said Lombardi. She added, “Aside from antibiotics, development of vaccine has saved more lives than every other medical intervention combined. I just hate when someone is deceived by what we know is bad science and they forgo something that can save their child’s life.”

Unlike some states that offer a relatively easy pathway for opting out of vaccines — examples include Oregon and Washington, scene of some of 2019’s worst outbreaks — Virginia, like most states, allows non-immunized students to attend public schools only if their families request a religious exemption. Even with that exemption, however, Virginia retains the authority to keep the child out of the classroom if there’s an outbreak of measles, mumps or other disease for which a vaccine exists.

Three states, California, Mississippi and West Virginia, provide no opt-outs; California yanked its religious exemption in 2015 after measles infected hundreds at Disneyland in Southern California.

Data kept by the Department of Health provides a mixed picture on school immunization rates in Virginia: at the kindergarten level, the share of children entering school with all their vaccines climbed from 2012 to 2017 — reaching 85.1 percent for public school students and 77.6 percent for private school kindergarten pupils. Compliance in middle school, however, has trended in the other direction: in 2012, about 94 percent of sixth graders in Virginia public school had received their full spread of vaccinations; that figure dropped to just under 83 percent in 2017.

For the most recent reporting period, in fall 2018, Halifax County posted one of the lowest kindergarten coverage rates among all Virginia localities: 83.2 percent. However, the county posted a sterling vaccination rate for sixth graders, of 99.5 percent.

Next door, Pittsylvania County had the opposite problem: full vaccine coverage of 95 percent of kindergarteners in 2018, but only 73.9 percent of sixth graders. Private school populations are not included in the Halifax and Pittsylvania data.

Along with the MMR, vaccinations required by the state include the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis), RV (Rotavirus) and polio vaccines, among others. Because of the persistent belief that MMR causes autism — a falsehood that resists the best efforts to debunk it — the MMR “is the one that people are most likely to refuse,” said Lombardi. “I’ll have people who will get other vaccines for their children and refuse the MMR.”

Because of the ease with which measles can spread — it is transmitted by droplets from an infected person’s nose or mouth, passed on by a sneeze or cough — the CDC advises that communities should have vaccination levels at or above 93 percent to maintain their herd immunity.

As the spike in measles cases around the country shows, it’s hard to know if communities, or pockets within the broader population, are fully safe from the spread of measles, mumps and other illnesses.

“The possibility of an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease due to no vaccination is on the minds of pediatricians,” Lombardi continued. “Despite the fact I work in an area with a higher rate of immunization, I still fear there could be an outbreak.”

If a person comes into contact with the measles virus and hasn’t been vaccinated, “you will almost certainly contract it,” said Lombardi.


What to know about MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella)

» It causes no side effects in most children. A small number may experience a mild rash, fever, soreness or swelling, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In rare cases, the MMR shot can cause more serious fever that can lead to complications such as seizure. It plays no role in autism in children.

» The vaccine is required for public school enrollment in Virginia, a major factor in maintaining the herd immunity of the general population.

» The MMR and other shots are available for free at local health departments and they are covered under all ACA-approved insurance plans. The Southside Health District offers free vaccine shots during office hours and promotes vaccines as part of its public education role. “It’s a regular part of what we do,” said Dr. Scott Spillmann, district director.

» Children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first when they are 12 to 15 months old; the second when they are between 4 and 6 years old. One dose is about 93 percent effective, two doses are 97 percent effective, according to the CDC.

» Dr. Anne Lombardi at Sentara Halifax Pediatrics recommends that youths heading off to college receive a mumps booster shot — advice that gained new relevance this month with the report of a mumps case at Longwood University in Farmville. The infected student lived off-campus and the local health department is tracking others who may have come into contact with the person to ensure they are current on their immunizations.

A booster for mumps is a good idea, said Lombardi, because the efficacy of the MMR against the virus weakens years after it is administered. ”If you’re going to catch one of the three [mumps, measles and rubella], it’s easiest to catch the mumps, but that’s because the immunity wanes over time,” said Lombardi. “I’ve never understood why we don’t give booster prior to going to college.”




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Comments

Of course its back. You have thousands of indigent people from third world Central and South American countries pouring across the border daily. Many come from locations with poor hygiene practices due to the lack of sewer and running water. News flash! That spurs disease which doesn't get left at the border.

Comments

"It plays no role in autism in children." This is an absolute lie. Read the package insert from https://www.fda.gov/downloads/BiologicsBloodVaccines/UCM123789.pdf
Absolute lie and play on words. From the package insert page 7 under Adverse Reactions section, nervous system, "Encephalitis; encephalopathy". This causes swelling of the brain which can lead to varying degrees of brain damage. What is autism? It's varying degrees of brain damage.

Comments

Pharma, inventing diseases to make money from. This article is a hit piece on those who question the efficacy of vaccines and the harm they have done. Experimentation upon an unknowing population, virginia syphillis experiments upon blacks and the indigent, gets denied when payouts have been recorded for damages. Chemical pushers make bucks from illness and creating new “potions” for future crises. Im not your lab rat. My body my choice.

Comments

Which is worse? The vaccine itself, or measles? Big pharma loves pushing their products to make their billions.

Comments

The best part is vaccine manufacturers cannot be sued criminally or civilly for injury. Damages to get paid for injury and death but guess who pays. Everyone who gets a vaccine pays a .75 cent excise tax. See IRS publication 510 page 33. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p510.pdf
"The effective date for the tax on any vaccine against influenza, other than trivalent influenza vaccines, is the later of August 1, 2013, or the date the Secretary of Health and Human Services lists a vaccine against seasonal influenza for purposes of compensation for any vaccine-related injury or death through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund. The tax is $.75 per dose of each taxable vaccine. The tax per dose on a vaccine that contains more than one taxable vaccine is $.75 times the number of taxable vaccines.

Comments

hmmm... trust Pharma? havent we learned from the opioid crisis?
where doctors were incentivized to promote pain addictions for pharma cash and incentives???? haven't we learned from the forced human lab rat experiments upon the indigent and minorities- sterilization, syphillis and other tests? no thanks for your chemical cocktails..


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