In recent years, there has been a great deal of attention given to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. More recently, measles outbreaks in Canada and the US have further ignited the discussion. In this article, we will outline some common truths and myths about this vaccine, and provide you with some information about the history of the MMR vaccine as well as the viruses that it aims to prevent.
Didn’t everyone used to get measles?
Yes. Prior to the introduction of the MMR vaccine, just about everyone would get measles at some point in their life. While many of these children may have gone on to live healthy lives, the consequences for some were serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea, or even pneumonia. One out of 1000 people with measles will develop inflammation of the brain, and about one out of 1000 will die.”
This number might not seem very high, but it’s important to note that the measles virus has an extremely high transmission rate. In fact, 90% of non-immune individuals who come into contact with the measles virus will become infected. This meant that before the MMR vaccine became available, thousands of children would die every year from the measles virus. You can read more about measles here.
Won’t the MMR vaccine give my child autism?
No. In 1998, Dr Andrew Wakefield published a study in the Lancet (a very well respected medical journal), which reported that some children given the MMR vaccine would later develop autism, and inflammatory bowel disease. In the years following the publication of this paper, it was found that Dr. Wakefield fraudulently produced his results; after a hearing, the British General Medical Council barred him from practicing medicine in the UK, and his original article in the Lancet was retracted. The World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety also concluded that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
My child is strong and healthy – why should they get the vaccine?
While your own child may have a strong immune system, there are many other children who do not – for instance, new babies, or children who have compromised immune systems (such as children with cancer). Not only are these children unable to get the MMR vaccines themselves, but they are also less able to fight the measles virus off if they become infected.
For these reasons, immunocompromised children rely on “herd immunity” to keep them safe. The way that herd immunity works is that when a high proportion of the population are immune to a disease, those who are vulnerable have a much lower chance of being exposed to this disease.
As mentioned earlier, measles is highly contagious. Without herd immunity, immunocompromised individuals have a very high chance of not only contracting the measles virus, but also potentially dying from it.
How effective is the MMR vaccine?
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the MMR vaccine is between 85-95% effective at preventing measles after one dose, and nears 100% efficacy after a second dose.
Written by Altaira Northe
Medical Writer/Editor at AboutKidsHealth