Home' Be : Be Issue 11 Contents when Japan switched from the combination MMR to a single
measles vaccine there was no reduction in autism rates."
Despite the huge amount of evidence that contradicted
Wakefield's claims, the study remained in the public domain
for about 12 years. McGrath believes the damage to the
reputation of vaccines, particularly to the MMR vaccine,
has been immense. He said since the study parents had
begun to question the safety of vaccines and anti-vaccine
groups have begun to emerge, some radically targeting new
parents via online websites. "It was really sad that the study
lead to parents having a distrust of vaccines and how good
they actually are as a health tool to prevent diseases in their
Autism numbers rise
A number of reports that children were being diagnosed
with autism shortly after being vaccinated with MMR only
fuelled anti-vaccine campaigns. However, McGrath believes
the timing was purely coincidental. MMR is given during
the second year of life, and according to Autism Spectr um
Australia's head researcher Dr Trevor Clark, about the time
when autism first manifests itself. "Autism often appears in
children from the age of 2 years, but can also be diagnosed as
early as 12 months."
Even before the retraction of the Lancet report, researchers
like Clark, had dismissed the link between the vaccine and
autism. "There has been a huge increase in autism research in
the past decade, however the Lancet report had little to do with
this. Initially, there was research into the link, but autism
research has really focused on genetics."
Although cases of childhood illnesses such as measles are
still low, immunologists like McGrath are concer ned about
the impact of the drop in immunisation rates,
saying we are still to face the full effects. Since
the introduction of the MMR vaccine cases of
measles, mumps and r ubella have all but been
eradicated in wester n societies. In 1941 there
were more than 890,000 cases of measles in
the US and by 1997 this had been reduced to
135 cases. Mumps dropped from over 150,000
cases to just 61 2, while Rubella dropped from
over 57,0 0 0 to 161. Similar rates were found in
According to a National Communicable
Diseases report, Australia had just 10 reported
cases of measles in 2005, however 43 cases had
been confirmed in the first two months of 2011.
This number is also tipped to rise considerably
by the end of the year according to McGrath,
who believes the higher than nor mal cases of
measles could be attributed to the Wakefield
report and people's general complacency.
"Vaccines have led to the virtual eradication
of some terrible infectious diseases including
polio, smallpox, tetanus, diptheria and
whooping cough, and have decimated rates
of others like meningitis and pneumonia
in vaccinated populations. But with this
enor mous success, people are becoming
complacent with vaccinations and now we are
seeing some diseases making a comeback."
Preventing disease outbreaks
Queensland Health has been quick to respond to the latest
cases of measles. Senior Director of the Communicable
Diseases Branch, Dr Christine Selvey urged residents to
vaccinate against the illness, saying that measles is one of the
most infectious of all communicable diseases. According to
Queensland Health, measles is spread by tiny droplets through
coughing and sneezing. The vir us can last for several hours in
the environment. Initial symptoms include fever, lethargy,
runny nose, moist cough and sore and red eyes, followed a few
days later by a blotchy red rash.
McGrath believes to prevent major outbreaks of preventable
diseases such as measles we need to establish a 'herd immunity'.
"A herd immunity is achieved when about 95% of the population
is vaccinated. This means that even if you have not been
vaccinated yourself, you can be protected because the vir us or the
bacteria can't live in a population where high numbers of people
are vaccinated and therefore it can't move around and spread."
While gover nments and health
organisations may hope for 100% of the
population to be immunised, McGrath believes
there will always be those who will have side
affects to some vaccines and will not be fully
immunised. "There are people that do have
reactions to vaccines and that is not something
you can predict or prevent. However if most
of the population is vaccinated, the herd
immunity effect will protect those that can't be
vaccinated due to health or religious reasons."
McGrath says the best way to protect
yourself from some of the world's most
debilitating and deadly diseases is to keep your
immunisations up to date. The Australian
Government has for many years taken a very
proactive stance to immunisation offering a
national immunisation program, funding free
vaccinations and administering the Australian
Childhood Immunisation Register.
"A HERD IMMUNITY
IS ACHIEVED WHEN
ABOUT 95% OF THE
Dr John McGrath is
Capricornia Centre for
His current work involves
development of a vaccine
for middle ear infection.
John has also worked
on the development of
vaccines for cancer and
chronic bronchitis and
was part of a team which
developed and trialled an
HIV vaccine in humans.
He is a father of two
young children, Michael
aged 7 months and Emma
aged 2 years.
John spends his spare
time introducing the kids
to the great outdoors.
More on immunisation at :
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