In 2010, Dr. Andrew Wakefield had his medical license yanked. He deserved it. He was the British doctor who claimed in 1998 there was a direct link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunization given to children.
Wakefield was given the opportunity to support his claim, but produced no evidence in the 12 years it took for his license to be pulled. Over the same time, multiple other studies showed there was no link between autism and MMR immunization. His claims did nothing to further the search for causes of autism, but it did affect immunizations.
There's a saying in medicine that it takes five years to adopt a good idea and 20 years to get rid of a bad one. So the myth of autism associated with this immunization will remain with us for a few more years yet – or longer, as multiple web sites continue to claim there is an association.
Unfortunately, the effect of Wakefield’s claim was to reduce the level of immunization against not only measles, mumps and rubella, but also against other childhood diseases in both Britain and the United States. With some illnesses, a lower "herd" immunity works, but for measles and whooping cough to stay out of our communities, more than 90 percent of us must be immunized. When levels fall below this, we start getting these diseases again.
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Both Britain and the United States have experienced their resurgence. Most children recover uneventfully from these; some do not.
I have two personal memories of childhood illness.
When I was 8, I spent six weeks out of school with an illness which would have been preventable today. When I was 9 we had a worldwide flu pandemic. One day, only four of the 46 children in my class were left. The next day, I wasn't there either.
I recently attended a meeting of RESULTS, a lobbying organization for the poor. At the meeting, members were encouraged to contact their U.S. representatives to encourage Congress to vote for the funds promised to Gavi – an international vaccine alliance. Gavi plans to immunize 300 million more children, and expects to have a 10:1 benefit for every dollar invested.
It's bad enough that children are dying from Ebola, a disease we have not yet mastered. It's worse that the two main killers of children worldwide (pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea) are largely preventable through immunization.
Make sure you get your own shots, your children get theirs – and help Gavi get funded.
Alan Searle of Port Orchard is a retired physician.