Measles return among children of vaccine scare generation

It is unacceptable for parents to leave child unvaccinated unless there is a valid medical reason, such as cancer treatment, says Public Health chief Charmaine Gauci

Measles has returned among unvaccinated adults born after 1998 to a generation of parents influenced by a fake study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism.

Infection figures released last week by the World Health Organisation showed that measles cases in Malta jumped up a whopping 500% in the first half of 2019.

The vast majority of the 31 measles cases recorded so far, this year, were in adults over 16 years.

These were the children born at the time when now-disgraced British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published a study that linked the MMR vaccine (a three-in-one vaccine against mumps, measles and rubella) to autism.

This study was debunked 12 years later and Wakefield also lost his warrant.

Malta had eradicated measles and rubella but after five imported cases in 2018, the figures increased this year, emulating European trends, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said.

“We expected this to happen because we are not immune to what is happening in Europe… the majority of cases recorded this year form part of the cohort of people who were born during the period when the anti-vaccine movement started and their parents may have refused or missed on vaccinating their children,” Gauci told MaltaToday.

She dispelled the suggestion that the problem was a result of the growing foreign population. “Only seven of the cases involved foreign nationals.”

There are no statistics to suggest how many people born in the aftermath of the 1998 vaccine scare are not immunised against measles but the situation suggests this is a relatively small group.

“Measles is highly contagious and the epidemiological picture we have points to a relatively small group of unvaccinated people; otherwise we would have seen the measles virus spread at a much faster rate,” Gauci said.

Malta introduced the MMR vaccine on the national health service in 1982. It is given to all babies born here and last year the coverage rate was 95%. The strong vaccination programme has ensured the eradication of measles and rubella but worldwide, health authorities have seen a rise in measles infections.

The return of measles in most parts of the western world is due to a very vocal anti-vaccine movement that still holds on to Wakefield’s fake research.

Gauci advised parents to seek professional medical assistance if they are concerned about vaccines, rather than seek information on the internet or social media.

“It is not acceptable for a parent to leave their child unvaccinated unless there is a valid medical reason, such as a child undergoing cancer treatment. Vaccine hesitancy worries us. There is a small but vocal anti-vaccination lobby that spreads irrational fear about vaccinations but a recent Danish study of over half a million children showed there was absolutely no correlation between MMR and autism,” Gauci said.

The findings of a decade-long study by researchers at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut were released in March this year.

Researchers examined data for more than half a million Danish children born from 1999 through the end of 2010.

The epidemiologists and statisticians used population registries to link information on vaccination status to autism diagnoses, and to sibling history of autism and other risk factors.

The findings confirmed what was already medical consensus that the MMR vaccine does not increase the risk of autism.

Gauci insisted it is never too late to get vaccinated. “I advise anyone below 50 to check whether they are vaccinated, either through the myhealth online portal, or by contacting the immunisation department. Anybody born after 1982 can get the vaccine for free through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.”

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