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Gary Evans writes Hospital Infection Control & Prevention (HIC), Hospital Employee Health (HEH) and contributes to IRB Advisor (IRB). As senior writer at AHC, Evans has written numerous articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and health care workers, including pandemic influenza, MERS and Ebola. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
An anti-vaccine movement that has been amplified by the Internet and endorsed by vocal celebrities has created persistent public fears that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism in children.
As a result, some parents are avoiding MMR immunization of their children, joining other groups that reject the vaccine out of religious or personal beliefs. Unvaccinated travelers to areas of measles outbreaks (e.g., the Philippines) can bring the highly contagious disease home, where transmission can explode in one of the groups that has rejected immunization.
For the record, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the following:
“There is no scientific evidence that measles, MMR, or any other vaccine causes autism. The question about a possible link between MMR vaccine and autism has been extensively reviewed by independent groups of experts in the U.S. including the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. These reviews have concluded that there is no association between MMR vaccine and autism.”
Nevertheless, the myth persists in an echo chamber on the Internet, where concerned parents may find a wealth of misinformation circulated by anti-vaccine groups. As a result, childhood diseases that almost disappeared in the United States are resurging. Paul Offit, MD, vaccine researcher and chief of the infectious disease department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says childhood diseases could become restablished and even polio could return through imported cases.
“We've seen outbreaks of pertussis,” he says. “I think there's every reason to believe that you could see diseases like polio come back in the United States. It is certainly in the world, and international travel is common.”
In his book, “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens us All,” Offit offers a sobering reminder of the pre-vaccine era:
“In the 1900s children routinely suffered and died from diseases now easily prevented by vaccines. Americans could expect that every year diphtheria would kill 12,000 people, mostly young children; rubella, (German measles) would cause as many as 20,000 babies to be born blind, deaf or mentally disabled. Polio would permanently paralyze 15,000 children and kill 1,000, and mumps would be a common cause of deafness. Because of vaccines all of these disease have been completely or virtually eliminated. But now because more and more parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children some of these diseases are coming back.”
For more on this story see the August 2014 issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention