Measles Vaccine on TV

So, I streamed Private Practice episode 11 “Contamination” a couple of nights ago. The episode is about a mom who won’t vaccinate her two younger sons for measles because she believes the MMR vaccine caused autism in her older son. Then her middle son gets measles. The view of the doctors about not vaccinating being the equivalent of child abuse, the quarantine of offices, visits by a public health official, and the outcome of the show all made me question our decision not to give our son the MMR vaccine until he’s older. I have thought of measles as a slightly more serious illness than chicken pox. The show (which I hope some of you will stream from ABC’s Free Episodes page so you can tell me your reactions) has prompted me to do more research on measles.

The Mayo Clinic website reports that 1 in 15 people with measles get pneumonia and 1 in 1000 contract encephalitis. Best Health reports 6 in 100 cases getting pneumonia with deaths from measles complications occuring mostly in children who weren’t vaccinated. UK’s NHS website breaks complications down into common, less common, and rare, so it doesn’t read as nearly so alarmist. The less common complications they list are still pretty frightening though. It should be noted that the UK’s statistics vary from those in the US. The ones in the US have a higher possibility of complication. 

Looking at dangers of measles versus possible dangers of the measles vaccine gets me feeling like Cavanaugh getting measles or side effects from one or the other is a foregone conclusion, when the reality is that by July of 2008, the U.S. had only had 131 cases of the measles for the year and of those 131, fifteen people were hospitalized and there were no deaths – Wikipedia. The biggest scare tactic with vaccines in general is the threat of outbreak, and for measles in particular that it is a highly contagious disease with a long incubation period and that because an increasing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate or to delay the MMR vaccine, the threat of outbreak or the possibility of epidemic is increased.

But most medical practitioners don’t talk about the complications associated with the vaccine or compare the statistical possibility of getting the illness and subsequent complication from the illness to the side effects of the vaccines. For that, Think Twice: The Global Vaccine Initiative offers a context, discusses complications in the first world versus in developing countries, and discusses adverse reactions to the vaccine.  The episode of Private Practice however makes death sound like a highly possible complication and those who choose not to vaccinate to be paranoid, delusional, and negligent. The show is at least topical. The problem, of course, is that they don’t develop both sides of the argument.

After reminding myself about the (un)likelihood that Cavanaugh would contract measles, I feel committed to waiting on the MMR vaccine for a while longer, maybe till his third birthday. I asked his pediatrician at his two year well-check if there were any shots we hadn’t gotten that the doctor would like to make a case for. He said that we should vaccinate for measles, that it’s a serious disease, and that he wouldn’t push now, but that if there’s an outbreak in Austin or anywhere in Texas, we needed to get the shot. After my latest round of research, I think we’d be likely to follow the doctor’s advice.

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