Unsurprisingly, the Children of Anti-Vaxxers Are the Biggest Victims of Measles Outbreaks

Apr 5, 2016

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By Elissa Strauss

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that measles had finally been eliminated in the United States. It was a triumph—but it didn’t last. By 2014 there were 677 reported cases of the disease, the highest rate in 20 years. In 2015, there were 189 reported cases—low compared to 2014, but still outrageous considering there were zero cases 15 years earlier.

Scientists attribute the unfortunate rise in measles and other infectious diseases to the growing number of parents who forgo or delay vaccinations for their children. People who abstain from vaccinations endanger the general population by weakening herd immunity, in which a highly immunized population protects against the spread of a disease. When less than 96 percent of a population is vaccinated, measles is more likely to spread to people who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons and to people who don’t develop full immunity even after being vaccinated. This means that we should all be frightened by the anti-vaxxer movement, even those of us who do vaccinate our children. But a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health indicates that the biggest victims of the anti-vaccine movement are the children of anti-vaxxers.

Researchers at Emory University and John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health reviewed all studies on vaccinations and two infectious diseases, measles and pertussis (also known as whooping cough), published over the last 15 years in order to figure out the connection between vaccine delay, refusal, and exemption and recent outbreaks of measles. They found that those who don’t get the measles vaccine are far more likely to get and spread the measles than those who got it—and that the vast majority of the unvaccinated people who got measles were unvaccinated by choice.

Of the 970 measles cases with detailed vaccination data, 574 cases were unvaccinated despite being vaccine eligible and 405 (70.6%) of these had nonmedical exemptions (eg, exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons, as opposed to medical contraindications; 41.8% of total).

The findings for pertussis, or whooping cough, were a little more complicated. The researchers found that “the 5 largest statewide epidemics had substantial proportions (range, 24%-45%) of unvaccinated or undervaccinated individuals.” However, there also were several pertussis outbreaks in highly vaccinated areas, which, they say, indicates waning herd immunity. The researchers conclude that the phenomenon of vaccine refusal, as opposed to medical exemption, has led to an overall increased risk of both diseases, especially for the unvaccinated.

Although the rise of measles and whooping cough are alarming to all reasonable parents, anti-vaxxers might not be as concerned, thanks to their belief that so-called “natural immunity” is superior to vaccinations. According to this theory, children who come into contact with a disease when they are young will develop an immunity to it on their own, and will end up healthier overall for not having been subjected to the vaccine. (Anti-vaxxers conveniently ignore the fact that vaccines pose virtually no health risk to most individuals, which means that avoiding them doesn’t confer any benefit.) Historical data roundly refute the idea that natural immunity works as a public health strategy. For a 1986 study, scientists looked at the prevalence of natural immunity to measles, rubella and mumps in the pre-vaccination era. They analyzed the health records of 1700 unvaccinated Spanish children and found that, among 6- and 7-year-olds, “only 12% of the children showed antibodies against the three diseases and 18.7% exhibited triple susceptibility.” By comparison, the measles vaccine, is 93 percent effective at preventing measles with one dose, and, with two doses, 97 percent effective.


Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

15 comments on “Unsurprisingly, the Children of Anti-Vaxxers Are the Biggest Victims of Measles Outbreaks

  • ‘@OP – They analyzed the health records of 1700 unvaccinated Spanish children and found that, among 6- and 7-year-olds, “only 12% of the children showed antibodies against the three diseases and 18.7% exhibited triple susceptibility.” By comparison, the measles vaccine, is 93 percent effective at preventing measles with one dose, and, with two doses, 97 percent effective.

    But that’s that sciency stuff, which anti-vaxers are allergic to understanding!
    It does not quack loud enough to get their attention and comprehension!



    Report abuse

  • They found that those who don’t get the measles vaccine are far more likely to get and spread the measles than those who got it—and that the vast majority of the unvaccinated people who got measles were unvaccinated by choice.

    America, the most litigious society on the planet. Come on guys. Mount the law suite against the anti-vaxers.

    “My child got measles. Nearly died. Has diminished eye sight for the rest of her life.”

    Sue the Baskets. Put them before the court. Get them to defend their position with “evidence” that displaces decades of information that vaccinations work, and are not dangerous. When they get into the witness box, and try to defend their position. Cross examine. Debunk. Embarrass. And finally get a legal judgement that they are liable financially for the losses your child endured.



    Report abuse

  • I am reading the autobiography of Mark Twain. In 1845 there was a measles outbreak where he was a child. He said there were funerals every day and all children were quarantined.

    One wonders that if this anti vaccine nonsense is not put down will such a virulent strain of the virus rise again?



    Report abuse

  • It seems that many, listening to anti-vax quackery, are happy to sit in ignorant denial, until some unfortunate child close to them has to suffer!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-35975011

    An Australian mother has said she regrets refusing the whooping cough vaccination during pregnancy after she passed the potentially fatal infection to her newborn baby.

    Cormit Avital said she had turned down the vaccination because she was a “healthy, fit, organic woman”.

    .She caught the disease shortly before giving birth and passed it to Eva, who has spent a month in intensive care.

    Ms Avital recorded a video warning about her “nightmare” experience.

    “If I could turn back time I would protect myself,” she said, in the video released by Gold Coast Health, the regional health authority.
    ‘A lot of suffering’

    Within two weeks, Eva’s cough “became pretty scary, horror movie, coughing to the point of going blue, flopping in my hands, can’t breathe,” she said.

    “For a moment there you think they’re dead in your hands. [It’s] a lot of suffering for a tiny little cute thing you love so much.”

    Dr Buynder said more than 20,000 pertussis cases were recorded in Australia last year, and “sadly this is becoming more common”.



    Report abuse

  • This article will not educate the anti-vaxxers.

    Every time I encounter one they fall back on the “natures way” argument and this article supports their position.

    Most of us want all children vaccinated so they don’t get sick or pass on measles to other children, Anti-vaxxers want all children to catch and spread the disease to help kindly mother nature get on with her work.

    It took Charles Darwin to educate us that mother nature is anything but kind, at best we could call her ruthlessly efficient. The fact humans have by chance evolved enough resistance to not go extinct is what is being used as misinformation that catching disease is somehow good for you (whoever first said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has a lot to answer for).

    I wonder if these parents also avoid telling their toddlers not to play with fire? it’s the same principle, if they stick their hand in it once they won’t do it again, and who knows? maybe even come out of it without life-changing disabilities, there’s bound to be an anecdote somewhere supporting this method.



    Report abuse

  • When I was a beautiful baby, like most other children of the time, I contracted measles and whooping cough. No one but the rich had cars in those days, so doctors used to make things called “house visits” (of which the younger readers will not have heard), free on the National Health Service at that. How times have changed. Anyhow, as Dr Coulter was examining me, so I’m told, Mother ran into the bedroom and called: Quick Doctor, the Brabazon’s flying overhead! It was its maiden flight. He dropped stethoscope and bag and ran outdoors to see it, such was the seriousness with which the twin diseases were regarded in those far off days.



    Report abuse

  • @eejit:
    The Brabazon flew from 1949-1953.

    Deaths from measles in England and Wales:
    1949: 307
    1950: 221
    1951: 317
    1952: 141
    1953: 242

    1990-2013: total of 30 in 24 years (average of 1.25 per year)

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/measles-deaths-by-age-group-from-1980-to-2013-ons-data/measles-notifications-and-deaths-in-england-and-wales-1940-to-2013

    Deaths from pertussis (whooping cough) in England and Wales:
    1949: 527
    1950: 394
    1951: 453
    1952: 181
    1953: 243

    1990-2013: total of 76 in 24 years (average of 3.17 per year)

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/500223/Table_6_Pertussis_notifications_and_deaths__E_W__1940_-_2014.pdf



    Report abuse

  • Professor Brian Cox, an astrophysicist in the UK had this to say about anti-vaxxers:

    “Well take the Ebola virus. There won’t be many anti-vaxxers around if there is an outbreak of Ebola in London and there’s a vaccine available.
    Not many people are then going to say, ‘Oh no,we’re going to stay organic.’

    If you are going to wipe out a viral disease, then it’s vaccination that does it. The best example is smallpox. In the 20th century, it killed as many as 500 MILLION people until 1979 when a vaccination program ended it–and now smallpox doesn’t exist anymore. It’s done, gone.

    So it’s about education. Don’t sit there in your house saying, ‘Oh little Johnny doesn’t need vaccinations.’ Just look at smallpox.”

    In 1993 I had season tickets to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Maryland. I sat next to a public health doctor who had spent much of his career going into the most primitive areas of South America leading a group who gave smallpox vaccinations to people in small villages. These people had seen smallpox decimate their people. They lined up without hesitation to get this vaccine.

    The modern more “civilized” nations haven’t seen the death toll that viruses cause. I am 67 y/o and we didn’t have the MMR (Red measles, mumps, and German Measles) vaccines. We didn’t have the polio vaccines yet. In my kindergarten group pictures there are children in leg braces and wheelchairs. I remember when the city pool was shut down because of the polio outbreak..

    And once when I was wandering around the city hospital while on night shift I found an old iron lung tucked away in a basement room. It startled me as I had only seen pictures of people in these machines.
    For those of us who heard the horrible sound, the “whoop” of whooping cough, pertussis, it’s the sound of a child trying desperately to breathe. I don’t EVER want to see these diseases come back.



    Report abuse

  • ml66uk #7

    @eejit:
    The Brabazon flew from 1949-1953.

    Pretty conclusive statistics. It just shows that even irrelevant trivia, such as I am wont to produce, can bring forth important information. I remember seeing the Brab flying over our house, I suppose I was about six then. It was a beautiful aeroplane.



    Report abuse

  • Helen #8
    Apr 6, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    I remember getting the polio injection. Mum took me and my friend, the doctor’s son (he’s still now the doctor on the estate where we lived), there were no privileges for insiders in those days. The queue at the medical centre was immense, and I can still remember the relief when the needle went in, although as I was skinny, it scratched the bone in my arm, I can still feel the grinding sensation. I am two years older than Helen, but I remember every class in school having a polio victim. I sat next to one in primary school; he died a few years ago from post polio syndrome.



    Report abuse

  • It’s sad to see how Progress has stalled. It seemed so linear, getting better all the time, when I was growing up, my cohort evaded the blight of polio, all vaccinated. Antibiotics available when needed, not — as far as I knew — fed to livestock on a routine basis. The future seemed bright, if only we could dodge the whole nuclear annihilation thing…



    Report abuse

  • OHooligan #11
    Apr 7, 2016 at 7:38 pm
    It’s sad to see how Progress has stalled

    Sad how it all ended, the post war settlement I mean. After the worst war in history, millions of refugees resettled within a few years, National Health Services established in civilised countries, ruined cities rebuilt, 250 000 council houses built in UK within three years after The Great War, 1.2m after WW11. Free secondary education, free university education, full employment. De-colonisation. All the things which could have made life nearly perfect on this planet, but somehow, collectively, we managed to blow it.



    Report abuse

  • eejit #10
    Apr 7, 2016 at 4:58 am

    I am two years older than Helen, but I remember every class in school having a polio victim. I sat next to one in primary school; he died a few years ago from post polio syndrome.

    Perhaps a few videos with archive footage of children hobbling around wearing leg irons, would make the point!

    . . . With the message – “Do you really want your child to carry the burden of anti-vax mytholgy?”



    Report abuse

  • It looks as if the final push to irradiate Polio is underway, in the last backwaters harbouring the disease!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36055507

    More than 150 countries have begun switching to a different polio vaccine – an important milestone towards polio eradication, health campaigners say.

    The new vaccine will target the two remaining strains of the virus under a switchover 18 months in the planning.

    There were just 74 cases of the paralysing disease in 2015 and there have been 10 so far this year.

    All of the cases were in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Africa has been free of polio for more than a year.

    Switching the vaccine from one successfully used to fight polio for more than 30 years is a huge logistical exercise.
    Thousands of monitors

    Thousands of people will monitor the changeover in 155 countries during the next fortnight.

    It is taking effect mainly in developing countries, but also in richer ones such as Russia and Mexico.

    The new vaccine will still be given as drops in the mouth, so healthcare workers will not need fresh training.

    It will no longer include a weakened version of type 2 polio virus, which was eradicated in 1999.

    ‘Rare mutations’

    Dr Stephen Cochi, from the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said: “The current vaccine contains live weakened virus relating to three types of polio.

    “But we don’t need the type 2 component, as it’s not in the world any longer.

    “And in very rare cases it can mutate and lead to polio, through what’s called circulating vaccine-derived virus.

    “So removing type 2 from the vaccine takes away that risk – and ensures we have a vaccine which will work better dose by dose.”

    One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised
    Today, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988




    Report abuse

  • Alan4discussion #14
    Apr 17, 2016 at 7:03 am

    It looks as if the final push to irradiate Polio is underway, in the last backwaters harbouring the disease!

    Meanwhile, the “faith-thinking” processes of religion, are making their usual contribution to solving world problems!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36090891

    Seven Pakistani policemen, three of whom were guarding polio workers, have been killed in Karachi, officials say.

    Islamist militants oppose vaccination, saying it is a Western conspiracy to sterilise Pakistani children.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.