Stories about vaccines in the popular press tend to be unabashedly one-sided, generally portraying vaccination as a universal (and essential) “good” with virtually no downside. This unscientific bias is particularly apparent in news reports about measles, which often are little more than hysterical diatribes against the unvaccinated.
Although public health authorities have made a case for measles eradication since the early 1980s, 50-plus years of mass measles vaccination and high levels of vaccine coverage have not managed to stop wild and vaccine-strain measles virus from circulating. Routine measles vaccination also has had some worrisome consequences. Perhaps the most significant of these is the shifting of measles risks to age groups formerly protected by natural immunity. Specifically, modern-day occurrences of measles have come to display a “bimodal” pattern in which “the two most affected populations are infants aged less than 1 year and adults older than 20 years”—the very population groups in whom measles complications can be the most clinically severe. As one group of researchers has stated, “The common knowledge indicating that measles [as well as mumps and rubella] are considered as benign diseases dates back to the pre-vaccine area and is not valid anymore.”
A little history
Before the introduction of measles vaccines in the 1960s, nearly all children contracted measles before adolescence, and parents and physicians accepted measles as a “more or less inevitablepart of childhood.” In industrialized countries, measles morbidity and mortality already were low and declining, and many experts questioned whether a vaccine was even needed or would be used.
Measles outbreaks in the pre-vaccine era also exhibited “variable lethality”; in specific populations living in close quarters (such as military recruits and residents of crowded refugee camps), measles mortality could be high, but even so, “mortality rates differed more than 10-fold across camps/districts, even though conditions were similar.” For decades both prior to and following the introduction of measles vaccination, those working in public health understood that poor nutrition and compromised health status were key contributors to measles-related mortality, with measles deaths occurring primarily “in individuals below established height and weight norms.” A study of measles mortality in war-torn Bangladesh in the 1970s found that most of the children who died were born either in the two years preceding or during a major famine.
Moms who get measles vaccines instead of experiencing the actual illness have less immunity to offer their babies, resulting in a ‘susceptibility gap’…
Measles vaccination and infants
Before the initiation of mass vaccination programs for measles, mothers who had measles as children protected their infants through the transfer of maternal antibodies. However, naturally acquired immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are qualitatively different. Moms who get measles vaccines instead of experiencing the actual illness have less immunity to offer their babies, resulting in a “susceptibility gap” between early infancy and the first ostensibly protective measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age.