Tag: measles

Vaccines are Necessary

We know that vaccines are safe, even if they can have some side effects and risks.

And we know that vaccines work, even if they don’t work 100% of the time.

In fact, vaccines work so well, that they have eliminated or controlled many of the vaccine-preventable diseases that we still get vaccinated against.

Are Vaccines Still Necessary?

So that leaves some people asking themselves – even if the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks, are vaccines still necessary?

“So what I did on my schedule is, I took a more logical look at hepatitis B, and I realized that babies have no risk of catching this disease, so let’s not do the hep B vaccine while a baby’s young and small and more vulnerable.”

Dr. Robert W. Sears on Why Partial Vaccinations May Be an Answer

After all, most of us don’t travel to developing countries or do other things to put ourselves or our kids at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease, right?

And we probably don’t have conditions that put us at high risk of getting sick either?

So isn’t it safe to just skip or delay many of the shots on the routine immunization schedule?

Shouldn’t some of them just be optional now?

Vaccines Are Necessary

Alternative vaccine schedules? Optional vaccines? No risk of getting diseases? Those are the arguments you will see on many anti-vaccine websites and forums, but they certainly aren’t logical arguments.

“The reason I delay the polio vaccine on my alternative schedule is that we don’t have polio in the United States. We haven’t had it here for over 30 years. We’ve been very fortunate because the vaccination program for polio has been so successful, now we’re reaping the rewards of not having to worry about this disease.”

Dr. Robert W. Sears on Why Partial Vaccinations May Be an Answer

Did you know that an unvaccinated group of Amish children got infected with polio in 2005? Or that there was a lethal case of vaccine-derived poliomelitis in Minnesota in 2009?

Apparently Dr. Bob didn’t either.

“We know that a disease that is apparently under control can suddenly return, because we have seen it happen, in countries like Japan, Australia, and Sweden. Here is an example from Japan. In 1974, about 80% of Japanese children were getting pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. That year there were only 393 cases of whooping cough in the entire country, and not a single pertussis-related death. Then immunization rates began to drop, until only about 10% of children were being vaccinated. In 1979, more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. When routine vaccination was resumed, the disease numbers dropped again.”

CDC on What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations?

But while polio is now on the brink of elimination, most other vaccine-preventable diseases are not. And that is why we see outbreaks any time vaccination rates drop:

  • measles – in addition to the outbreaks in the United States, there have been much bigger outbreaks across Europe, with much deadlier consequences
  • pertussis – yes, some of our pertussis outbreaks are because of waning immunity and occur in fully vaccinated children, but there were even larger outbreaks in Japan, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, Australia, and other countries in the 1970s and 1980s when immunization rates dropped, cases soared, and children died.
  • diphtheria – few people even know what diphtheria is anymore, but it is still around and causes outbreaks when immunization rates drop.
  • rubella – want to know what happens when you don’t vaccinate for rubella? just look at Japan – they had 14,357 cases of rubella and at least 31 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 2013.
  • Hib – a 2008 outbreak in Minnesota during a temporary vaccine shortage likely reflected “increasing carriage and transmission affecting those with suboptimal primary series vaccination coverage, or a weakening of herd immunity”
  • tetanus – although tetanus isn’t contagious, we are seeing more cases in kids and pregnant women who aren’t vaccinated, as the bacteria which causes tetanus is present in spores in dirt and dust almost everywhere
  • polio – although polio is now endemic in only three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, there are other countries where outbreaks can still occur, including the DR Congo and Syrian Arab Republic and many other high risk countries. This includes outbreaks of circulating vaccine derived polio virus, which increased this year in non-endemic countries, especially Syria because of years of poor immunization rates because of war.

Vaccines are necessary to avoid these kinds of outbreaks.

What Happens When We Don’t Vaccinate?

It should be very clear that everyone can’t try to hide in the herd.

We know what happens when  too many people don’t vaccinate their kids.

At least those of us who understand herd immunity know what happens…

In Ukraine, for example, there was a “massive epidemic” of diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“This epidemic, primarily affecting adults in most Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union, demonstrates that in a modern society diphtheria can still spread explosively and cause extensive illness and death.”

Diphtheria in the Former Soviet Union: Reemergence of a Pandemic Disease

In Ukraine alone, there were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

Need a more recent example?

Just look at the tragedy unfolding in Venezuela. In addition to all of the hardships the people are facing, because of a weakened health system, poor surveillance, and a lack of preventative measures, including immunizations, they are seeing a rebound of diphtheria, measles, and other infectious diseases.

After being eliminated in 1992, there have been at least 450 cases of diphtheria in Venezuela since 2016 and at least 7 deaths.

Vaccines are necessary.

Vaccine-preventable diseases will come back if we stop vaccinating our kids.

And tragically, they aren’t yet gone in many parts of the world, even those that are well controlled in more developed countries. That’s why we often say that these diseases are ‘just a plane ride away.’

Just remember that the planes travel both ways. It isn’t just you traveling to high risk areas. Sometimes folks who are sick with vaccine preventable diseases bring them home and start outbreaks.

Get educated. Get vaccinated.

What to Know About Why Vaccines Are Necessary

Until a disease is eradicated, vaccines at herd immunity levels remain necessary to keep it from returning and causing outbreaks.

More About Why Vaccines Are Necessary

The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

Have you ever heard that measles isn’t deadly?

Sure, there are the folks who think that all vaccine preventable diseases are so mild that they wouldn’t kill you unless you lived in a Third World country.

The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

But there are also folks, usually the same folks, who think that the measles virus doesn’t actually kill you – it is instead the complications that are deadly.

For most people, that’s a distinction without a difference.

“The acute pathological effects of measles include the destruction of respiratory epithelium and depression of cellular immunity. These effects interact to transiently increase measles-infected hosts’ susceptibility to respiratory bacterial strains to which they are not immune.”

Measles epidemics of variable lethality in the early 20th century.

After all, if you have measles and die, you probably don’t care if you died because of:

  • viral pneumonia
  • a secondary bacterial pneumonia
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • acute measles encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – a late complication of natural measles infections

In the pre-vaccine era, before the early 1960s, about 400 to 500 people would die each year from measles and these complications.

So much for the myth that measles isn’t deadly.

But didn’t they all have underlying medical problems – another measles myth?

No they didn’t. One study of measles deaths in the 1960s found that only about 17% of the people who died with measles as the cause of death had an underlying disease.

And we now know that having a natural measles infection lowers your immunity and puts you at risk of dying from something else, even after you have recovered from your measles infection. That’s why mortality rates go down so much more than expected after measles vaccine programs are introduced in an area.

Measles Is Still Not Marvelous

Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn't available until 1968.
Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn’t available until 1968.

While it is true that people rarely die of measles in the United States and other developed countries anymore, that’s just because most people are vaccinated and really big outbreaks aren’t that common, especially since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in 2000.

You don’t have to go back to the pre-vaccine era to remember how measles kills though.

Measles is still deadly, even in this era of modern medicine, good nutrition, and clean water. Not that people in the United States didn’t eat well and have access to indoor plumbing in the 1950s, but medical care has improved.

People can still die when they get measles though.

Consider that at least 123 people died in the United States during the large measles epidemics from 1989 to 1991. Another 11,000 were hospitalized, among only about 55,000 cases.

During even more recent outbreaks of measles:

  • a pregnant woman with measles was hospitalized and had a miscarriage (2013 measles outbreak in Brooklyn)
  • an immunocompromised woman died of pneumonia due to measles (2015 measles outbreak in Clallam County, Washington)

There have been other measles deaths and complications of these preventable infections.

Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994.
Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994.

Although before the Clallam County death, the CDC would say that “the last verifiable death in the United States from acute measles infection occurred in 2003 when there were 2 reported deaths,” death certificates had been filed in 2005, 2009 (2), 2010 (2), and 2012 (2) which listed measles as a cause of death code. These measles deaths are listed in the CDC “Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2012,” and in the CDC Wonder Compressed Mortality Files Underlying Cause-of-Death database.

Again, that there aren’t more simply reflects that most people are vaccinated.

But when we start seeing more and more cases of measles, more and more people will start to die. Just look at the outbreaks in Europe right now…

We also shouldn’t forget that worldwide, even after a 79% drop in measles deaths just since 2000, there were still 134,200 measles deaths in 2015, about 367 deaths a day.

What To Know About The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

Not only are measles infections deadly, usually from pneumonia and encephalitis, but a natural measles infection can also cause years of immunosuppression, increasing your risk of death from other diseases too.

More About The Myth That Measles Isn’t Deadly

When Measles Epidemics Would Close Schools

Remember when measles epidemics and outbreaks used to close down entire schools and school districts?

No, I don’t either, but of course, like many of us, I’ve been fortunate enough to have grown up in the post-vaccine era for measles and many other vaccine-preventable diseases.

When Measles Epidemics Would Close Schools

Schools in California were closed for at least two weeks in 1917 because of measles epidemics.
Schools in California were closed for at least two weeks because of measles epidemics. Red Bluff Daily News, April 14, 1917

On April 16, 1917, as measles epidemics swept the United States, grammar schools in Red Bluff, California would shut down for at least two weeks.

Why?

Officials found that it was “impossible to cope with measles under present conditions” and they hoped this would help end the epidemic.

The city board of health also urged parents to “use every effort to stamp out the spread of the disease by keeping children at home, by having no child attend picture shows or even Sunday schools.”

This was hardly an isolated event though. School officials in Los Molinos and Redding, California had closed their high school and all grammar schools in late March for two weeks in the hopes “that the disease will wiped out in that time.”

Why the big push to end the outbreaks?

As experts warned that measles dangers were “too generally disregarded” by some, they also knew that “over 11,000 American children died of measles in 1910” and that “this did not include a large number who died of broncho-pneumonia.”

Tragically, there were many deaths in the 1917 measles epidemic too.

In nearby Chico, California, a mother and her 8-year-old died on the same day, while seven other family members were seriously ill and it was stated that “little hope is held for their recovery.”

Schools in Red Bluff didn’t open again until May 7, when finally the “epidemic of measles seems to have lessened its grip.”

Measles Were Never Marvelous

Some folks like to use the fact that there was a Brady Bunch episode about measles to make it seem like it was a mild disease.

If that’s true, then why do old newspaper clippings describe the “scourge of measles” and repeatedly warn how deadly it can be?

“Measles is often fatal to children under five years of age and on this account, special protection should be given to very young children. It is a mistake to expose a child to the disease so that he may “get ’em and have ’em over with.” The after results may effect the health of the individual all through his life.”

Red Bluff Daily News, Epidemic Measles Is Sweeping Over State California

Why were schools closed for three weeks?

Why did so many people die?

While some folks will blame it on a lack of modern medical care, poor nutrition, or poor sanitation back in the early 20th Century, you don’t have to go back that far to find reports of a lot of people dying of measles in the United States.

Even as improved nutrition, sanitation, and health care made many things less deadly, in the pre-vaccine era, in the late-1950s, there were about 450 measles deaths each year in the United States.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.

And at a time of modern nutrition, sanitation, and health care, at least 123 people died in the United States during the large measles epidemic from 1989 to 1991. Another 11,000 were hospitalized, among only about 55,000 cases.

“Two major causes of this epidemic were vaccine failure among a small percentage of school-aged children who had received 1 dose of measles vaccine and low measles vaccine coverage among preschool-aged children”

Dr. Walter Orenstein on the 1989-91 Measles Epidemics

Instead of “mild,” during the 1989-91 epidemics, you were more likely to hear terms like measles “emergency alert,” “Real Crisis Situation,” and “serious problem.”

Measles Still Keeps Kids From School

Fortunately, measles doesn’t close schools anymore. But not because measles has become more mild or easier to treat, after all, there is still no treatment for measles, but rather because most folks are vaccinated.

It can still lead to quarantines for those who aren’t vaccinated though. It is one of the ways that health officials work to control outbreaks.

During the Disneyland measles outbreak in California in 2015, a day care center in Santa Monica was closed (and 30 babies were put in home quarantine) and kids were kept from school at:

  • Amelia Earhart Middle School in Riverside – at least 6 unvaccinated students were kept from school after another student contracted measles
  • Palm Desert High School – 66 students were excluded from school because they are not fully vaccinated against measles
  • Huntington Beach High School – at least 24 unvaccinated students were excluded from school

But you don’t even have to go back that far to find these types of quarantines. In March, an unvaccinated student with measles led to the quarantine and exclusion of 7 other unvaccinated students from Laguna Beach High School in Orange County, California.

But a three week ‘vacation’ is hardly the worse thing that can happen when a measles outbreak comes to town. Measles is still deadly, even today.

Get educated and get vaccinated.

What To Know About When Measles Epidemics Would Close Schools

While you likely don’t remember when large epidemics of measles would close schools, it’s a reminder that measles wasn’t thought of as the mild disease that some claim it was.

More Information About History of Measles Epidemics

Challenging the Concept of Herd Immunity

Before we talked about clusters of unvaccinated children, experts warned about pockets of susceptibles.
Before we talked about clusters of unvaccinated children, experts warned about pockets of susceptibles.
The idea of herd immunity has been around since at least 1923 and became used to describe “the indirect protection afforded to individuals by the presence and  proximity of others who are immune.”

That’s not much different from how the CDC defines herd immunity today:

A situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.

Also called community immunity, it is often misunderstood by folks in the anti-vaccine movement.

Challenging the Concept of Herd Immunity

That the idea of herd immunity is being challenged is not new.

“Along with the growth of interest in herd immunity,  there has been a  proliferation of views of what it means or even of whether it exists at all.”

Paul E. M. Fine Herd Immunity: History, Theory, Practice

If you get educated about vaccines and understand how herd immunity works, it is easy to refute these challenges, especially the idea that herd immunity isn’t real just because we still have outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases among highly vaccinated communities.

Why do we still have outbreaks then?

It is mostly because we live in open communities that don’t mix randomly.

Keep in mind that the best model for herd immunity is a randomly mixing closed community – “one in which the probability of contact within any time interval is the same for every choice of two individuals in the population.”

Again, that doesn’t mean herd immunity doesn’t work.

It just means we can expect to see some outbreaks when someone in a well vaccinated community visits another community with lower vaccination levels and more disease, gets sick, and returns.

“However,  within the population of a community,  there may be pockets of  susceptibles, either because prior epidemics have failed to spread into the group or because they have not accepted immunization.”

John P. Fox Herd Immunity

You must also consider the size of the community when thinking about herd immunity, for example, a family, school, neighborhood, or city, versus the entire state. So you can have herd immunity levels of protection at the state or city level because of high average vaccination levels, but pockets of susceptibles who live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school can mean that you don’t have herd immunity in those places, leading to outbreaks.

“Hib vaccine coverage of less than 70% in the Gambia was sufficient to eliminate Hib disease, with similar findings seen in Navajo populations.”

RA Adegbola Elimination of Hib disease from The Gambia after…

Lastly, there is not one herd immunity level for all diseases. It is a separate threshold for each and every disease, depending on how easily it spreads, how many people are already immune, how long immunity lasts, if there is a vaccine, and the effectiveness of the vaccine, etc. That means that a community can have herd immunity for Hib and polio, but not the flu, and for rubella and measles, but not pertussis.

What happened in The Gambia is a great example of herd immunity. After introducing a three dose primary Hib immunization schedule (no booster dose), rates of Hib meningitis quickly went from 200 per 100,000 to none. A few years later, there were 6 cases of Hib meningitis in mostly vaccinated children (no booster dose) and in the majority of cases, “close contacts had a history of frequent or recent travel to Senegal, a neighboring country with strong kinship links with The Gambia and where vaccination against Hib was not introduced” until the following year.

With a Hib meningitis rate of 3 per 100,000, they are still far below pre-vaccine levels of disease, and their situation doesn’t mean that herd immunity isn’t real, as you will understand once you review these myths about herd immunity.

Myths About Herd Immunity

What are some common myths about herd immunity?

  • that natural immunity is better than getting vaccinated. Not True. Natural immunity often comes with a price. Remember, many vaccine-preventable diseases are life-threatening, even in this age of modern medicine.
  • you can just hide in the herd. Not True. “Freeloaders” can gamble and hope that their intentionally unvaccinated kids won’t get a vaccine-preventable disease, but it won’t always work. There is a risk to “free-riding, in which individuals profit from the protection provided by a well-vaccinated society without contributing to herd immunity themselves.”
  • most adults aren’t immune because they haven’t been vaccinated or don’t get boosters, but since we aren’t seeing that many outbreaks, herd immunity itself must be a myth. Not True. Adults were either born in the pre-vaccine era and likely have natural immunity or were born in the vaccine era and are vaccinated and immune. But again, herd immunity is disease specific, so when we talk about herd immunity for measles, it doesn’t matter if they have immunity against hepatitis A or Hib. And adults get few boosters or catch-up vaccines. Also, some vaccines, like Hib and Prevnar, have indirect effects, protecting adults even though they aren’t vaccinated because vaccinated kids are less likely to become infectious.
  • most vaccines wear off too soon to provide long lasting protection for herd immunity to be real. Not True. While waning immunity is a problem for a few diseases, like pertussis and mumps, and you need boosters for others, like tetanus, vaccine induced immunity is typically long lasting and often life-long.
  • herd immunity wasn’t developed by observing immunized people, it was all about natural immunity. Not True. The first experiments about herd immunity by Topley and Wilson in 1923 involved vaccinated mice. Ok, they weren’t immunized people, but it wasn’t just about natural immunity! And much earlier, in 1840, it was noted that “smallpox would be disturbed, and sometimes arrested, by vaccination, which protected a part of the population.” That’s herd immunity he was talking about.
  • herd immunity is not a scientifically validated concept. Not True. It has been well studied for almost 100 years.
  • if herd immunity was real, diseases would be eradicated once you reached herd immunity levels. Not True. Reaching herd immunity levels simply starts a downward trend in disease incidence. A little more work has to be done at the final stages of eradication, like was done for smallpox and is being done for polio.
  • natural immunity causes much of the decrease in mortality from a disease in the developed world, even before a vaccine is introduced. Not True. While it is certainly true that there was a big drop in mortality in the first half of the 20th century for most conditions because of improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and medical science, it was not a consequence of natural herd immunity. And we continue to see significant levels of mortality and morbidity for many diseases in the modern era, especially for those that can’t yet be prevented by a vaccine, like RSV, West Nile Virus, and malaria, etc.
  • vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so herd immunity can’t really work. Not True. Part of the equation to figure out the herd immunity threshold for a disease takes into account the effectiveness of a particular vaccine.
  • folks with medical exemptions for vaccines put the herd at risk just the same as those who intentionally skip vaccines. Not True. Children and adults with medical exemptions, including immune system problems, those getting treatments for cancer, and other true medical exemptions don’t have a choice about getting vaccinated.

So, like other anti-vaccine myths, none of the herd immunity myths you may have heard are true.

That makes it hard to understand why Dr. Russel Blaylock goes so far as to say “that vaccine-induced herd immunity is mostly myth can be proven quite simply.” Does he just not understand herd immunity? That is certainly a possibility, because “although herd immunity is crucial for the elimination of infectious diseases, its complexity and explicit relationship to health politics cause it to remain under-explained and under-used in vaccine advocacy. ”

He is also really big into pushing the idea that adults have no or little immunity, because when he was in medical school, he was “taught that all of the childhood vaccines lasted a lifetime,” but it has now been discovered that “most of these vaccines lost their effectiveness 2 to 10 years after being given.”

The thing is, Blaylock graduated medical school in 1971, when the only vaccines that were routinely used were smallpox (routine use ended in 1972), DPT, OPV, and MMR (it had just become available as a combined vaccine in 1971). Of these, it was long known that smallpox, diphtheria, and tetanus didn’t “last a lifetime,” and the live vaccines OPV and MMR, except for the mumps component, actually do.

Blaylock, like most anti-vaccine folks who push myths about herd immunity, is plain wrong. And like most anti-vaccine myths, using herd immunity denialism to convince parents that it is okay to skip or delay vaccines puts us all at risk for disease.

What To Know About Herd Immunity Myths

Herd immunity is not junk science or a false theory. Herd immunity is real, it works, and explains how people in a community are protected from a disease when vaccination rates are above a certain threshold.

More About Herd Immunity Myths

Measles Vaccines vs Measles Strains

Most people understand that for every virus or bacteria, their can be multiple strains of the same organism that cause disease.

For example, there is flu A and B, swine flu, bird flu, and even dog flu.

In the case of flu, those different strains are a problem, because having immunity to one, doesn’t mean that you will have immunity to others. In fact, usually you won’t, whether it is natural immunity from a previous infection or immunity from a vaccine.

Pains with Strains

Do we have the same issues with other diseases?

We certainly have situations in which vaccines don’t cover all disease strains, including:

  • Gardasil – now covers nine strains of HPV that cause 90% of cervical cancers
  • Hib – only covers Haemophilus influenzae type b, which causes invasive disease, like meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis, but not other Haemophilus influenzae strains that can cause ear infections
  • Polio – originally protected against three serotypes of polio, but monovalent (one strain) and bivalent (two strains) oral poliovirus vaccines have also been available to respond to outbreaks and bOPV is the one used for routine immunization, except in industrialized, polio-free countries that use the IPV shot
  • Prevnar – now covers 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumonia
  • Rotavirus – protects against severe disease caused by rotavirus strains that aren’t even in the vaccine

Fortunately, even when a vaccine doesn’t cover all strains, it does cover those that most commonly cause disease.

Measles Genotypes

Knowing the genotype of a measles strain can help you understand where measles outbreaks are coming from.
Knowing the genotype of a measles strain can help you understand where measles outbreaks are coming from.

What about measles?

There are at least 24 different genotypes of measles that come from 8 different clades (A-H), with even more wild type virus strains (based on those genotype).

These genotypes include A (all vaccine strains are genotype A), B2, B3, C1, C2, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8, D9, D10, D11, G2, G3, H1, and H2.

In general, genotypes are restricted to a specific part of the world, such as:

  • African Region – B2, B3
  • Eastern Mediterranean Region – B3, D4, D8
  • European Region – D4, D5, D6
  • Southeast Asian Region – D4, D5, D8, D9, G2, G3, H1
  • Western Pacific Region – D5, D9, G3, H1

In countries that have eliminated measles, like the United States, the genotypes that are found will depend on from where the measles strain was imported.

Additionally, five genotypes, B1, D1, E, F, and G1 are now inactive.

Measles Strains

Specific strains of measles viruses include the vaccine strains (Edmonston, Moraten, Zagreb, Schwarz, AIK‐C, CAM, Leningrad-16, and Shanghai-191, etc.) plus wild strains, like:

  • MVi/NewYork.USA/94 – a wild strain of B3 genotype
  • Johannesburg.SOA/88/1 – a wild strain of D2 genotype
  • Manchester.UNK/30.94  – a wild strain of D8 genotype
  • Hunan.CHN/93/7 – a wild strain of H1 genotype

Why so many vaccine strains?

It may come as a surprise to some people, but the whole world doesn’t use the same vaccines. For example, unlike the United States, Japan has used measles vaccines derived from AIK‐C, CAM, and Schwarz strains of the measles virus.

And just how many wild strains of measles are there? It’s hard to know, but consider that a study of 526 suspected measles cases from 15 outbreaks over 3 years in one state of India found at least 38 different strains.

Myths About Measles Strains

Do the measles vaccines cover all of the measles strains that cause outbreaks around the world?

Yes they do, despite the myths you may hear about mutated measles strains.

This came up a lot during the Disneyland measles outbreak, when folks first tried to place blame on a vaccine strain and then on the fact that the outbreak strain didn’t match the vaccine strain.

“…California patients were genotyped; all were measles genotype B3, which has caused a large outbreak recently in the Philippines…”

CDC Measles Outbreak — California, Dec 2014–Feb 2015

And it is coming again in the latest measles outbreak in Minnesota. Could that outbreak be caused by a vaccine strain? Anything is possible, but it’s not. A communication’s director for the Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed that “that the virus strain making people sick in this outbreak is the B3 wild-type virus.”

Of course, none of these outbreaks are started by a vaccine strain of measles shed from someone who was recently vaccinated. It also had nothing to do with the fact that the strains didn’t match – after all we aren’t talking about the flu.

These outbreaks are imported from other countries by folks who typically aren’t vaccinated or are incompletely vaccinated and mostly spread among other people who are unvaccinated.

So what’s the most important thing to understand when considering all of these vaccine strains and wild strains of measles? It is that “there is only 1 serotype for measles, and serum samples from vaccinees neutralize viruses from a wide range of genotypes…”

In other words, the measles vaccine works against all strains of measles in all genotypes of measles. That makes sense too, because the measles virus, unlike influenza, is monotypic.

There is only one main type of measles virus, despite the many small changes in the virus that can help us identify different strains and genotypes. And these changes don’t affect how antibodies protect us against the measles virus.

What To Know About Measles Strains

The best way to get protected against all measles strains is to get vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine.

More About Measles Strains

Updated May 23, 2017

Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

Measles is a big killer.

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

According to the WHO, “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

But it wasn’t that long ago, in 1980, that measles was causing at least 2.6 million deaths a year. And just 17 years ago, in 2000, measles caused about 777,000 deaths worldwide.

Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

While some experts doubt if we will ever truly eradicate measles, like we have done for smallpox, a lot of progress is being made on reducing measles outbreaks and deaths thanks to routine and supplemental immunizations.

Tragically, measles still kills.

“For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.”

CDC – Complications of Measles

And it is not just in developing countries that don’t have access to vaccines or adequate levels of vitamin A or modern healthcare. It should also be obvious, when you look at the cases below, that you don’t have to wait for there to be a 1,000 people in an outbreak for there to be a death. It could be the first person in the outbreak or you might see 3 or deaths between cases 3,000 to 4,000.

During the 2010 and 2011 outbreaks in Europe, after all, with about 30,000 cases of measles each year, there were at least 28 deaths.

There are now 34 measles deaths from the outbreak in Romania, including a newborn who was just three weeks old.
There are now 34 measles deaths from the outbreak in Romania alone, including a newborn who was just three weeks old.

So far, since last year, there are reports of 49 deaths in the measles outbreaks across Europe, including:

  • the death of a 10-month-old unvaccinated child in Bulgaria (among just 163 cases)
  • the death of a 37-year-old partially vaccinated women (the mother of 3 kids) in Essen, Germany (among about 866 cases)
  • the death of a 17-year-old girl who was not vaccinated in Portugal (among just 31 cases)
  • 35 deaths in Romania, almost all unvaccinated children without preexisting conditions, including a three week old baby (among 9,100 cases since January 2016)
  • the death of a vaccinated man who was being treated for leukemia in Switzerland (among just 69 cases)
  • four deaths in Italy (among 4,575 cases), including a 6-year-old boy with leukemia who reportedly caught measles from an unvaccinated sibling. The other deaths included an unvaccinated 9-year-old girl and a 16-month-old.
  • one death in France – a 16-year-old unvaccinated girl from Nice, who died in Marseille
  • one death in Spain
  • two deaths in Ukraine – unvaccinated toddlers who died at a children’s hospital in Odessa (among about 1,000 cases, mostly unvaccinated children)
  • two deaths in Kosovo, including a baby who died in a hospital in Pristina.

Unfortunately, measles cases continue to rise in most of these countries and many others…

Russia is the latest country to report an increase in measles cases, with outbreaks in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The latest death – a 39-year-old nurse at a Children’s Hospital in Brasov, Romania.

Outside of the EU, cases of measles and deaths include:

  • 20,898 cases in the DR Congo with at least 241 deaths
  • 2,246 cases in Ethiopia
  • 1,891 cases in South Sudan with at least 16 deaths
  • 1,527 cases in Guinea with at least 2 deaths
  • 10 deaths of children in Bangladesh
  • 40 deaths of infants in Indonesia
  • 17,772 cases in Nigeria with at least 105 deaths
  • 20 deaths and dozens of hospitalizations in Pakistan

Are you planning a trip to Europe any time soon? How about Indonesia or DR Congo, for which the CDC has also issued travel health notices? Even if you aren’t, as these outbreaks rise, it increases the chances that another traveler will bring measles home and expose someone in your community, starting an outbreak.

And while we deal with folks who simply don’t want to vaccinate and protect their kids, no one should lose sight of the fact that “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

What To Know About Measles Deaths

Kids are still dying of measles and the big take away should be that it doesn’t take thousands of cases for there to be a death and it can happen to a healthy child in a developed country with modern healthcare.

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks

More Information About Measles Deaths

Updated October 20, 2017

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About Those Measles Outbreaks in China

The MMR vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines ever made. Two doses are at least 99% effective at preventing measles infections. Even one dose is about 95% effective against measles.

We have measles outbreaks in the United States not because the MMR vaccine is not effective, but rather because there are still so many unvaccinated people around. Often, these unvaccinated people travel out of the country, get sick with measles, and start the outbreaks.

About Those Measles Outbreaks in China

A study in PLOS did not find massive outbreaks of measles in China despite high vaccination rates.
A study in PLOS did not find massive outbreaks of measles in China despite high vaccination rates.

But if the MMR vaccine is so effective, then why, as many anti-vaccine folks claim, is China having measles outbreaks when 99% are vaccinated?

The simple answer is that this claim is false – China is not having these big measles outbreaks among highly vaccinated people.

The source of the claim is from a real article in PLoS One, “Difficulties in Eliminating Measles and Controlling Rubella and Mumps: A Cross-Sectional Study of a First Measles and Rubella Vaccination and a Second Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination,” which found that in 2011, in Zhejiang province, there were:

  • 9 patients with measles, including 3 infants who were too young to be vaccinated and 6 young adults who were unsure if they had ever been vaccinated
  • 1122 patients with mumps
  • 186 patients with rubella

So no big measles outbreaks, but why the large number of cases of mumps and rubella?

History of Measles Vaccination in China

It becomes easy to understand when you look at their immunization schedule.

In the United States, the first live measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, the MMR was introduced in 1971, and a booster dose of MMR was added to the childhood immunization schedule in 1990. That helped to stop the endemic spread of measles in 2000 and rubella in 2004.

In contrast, the measles vaccine timeline has moved much slower in China:

  • a measles vaccine was introduced in 1966
  • continued use of a one-dose, single-antigen measles vaccine through the 1970s and mid-1980s
  • the addition of a single-antigen measles vaccine booster dose in 1985 to children who were 7-years-old
  • in 2007, the switch to a measles-rubella vaccine for 8 months old, with a MMR booster at 18-24 months
  • the addition of a measles-rubella vaccine booster for secondary school students in 2008
  • a campaign to get children between the ages of 8 months and 4 years vaccinated with a measles-mumps vaccine in 2010

So many of the children and young adults who had mumps and rubella would not have had a chance to get a mumps or rubella vaccine. They were too old when they started giving those vaccines and there was no catch-up for older children and adults.

The study authors conclude that a timely two-dose MMR vaccination schedule is recommended, with the first dose at 8 months and the second dose at 18–24 months. An MR vaccination speed-up campaign may be necessary for elder adolescents and young adults, particularly young females.

What To Know About Those Measles Outbreaks in China

Even considering the varied vaccine schedule, the study also clearly states that even for the measles vaccine, there is less than 95% coverage in almost all age groups and that measles cases are at an historic low.

It should be clear that anti-vaccine websites are putting out false information when they say that China is having measles outbreaks when 99% of the population is vaccinated.

More About Those Measles Outbreaks in China