Surge In Measles Cases Has English Health Experts Concerned
May 21, 2013

Surge In Measles Cases Has English Health Experts Concerned

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Health officials are concerned about the surge in measles over the years since controversial research emerged, linking the vaccine for the illness to autism.

Public Health England (PHE) announced a few weeks ago that measles cases in England in the first three months of 2013 reached a staggering 587 by the end of March, following a record annual high of nearly 2,000 cases in 2012.

According to PHE data, 94 percent of 5-year-olds receive one dose and 90 percent receive two doses of the vaccine, but its going to take even more than that to reduce the outbreak. Experts are attributing the rise in measles diagnoses to the proportion of unprotected 10- to 16-year-olds who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s when researcher Andrew Wakefield published an article about how the vaccine causes autism.

Wakefield wrote in the journal The Lancet about how a triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to an autism-like disorder. Since it was published, The Lancet has retracted Wakefield's article and many experts have scrutinized the researcher for his work. Ten of the paper's 13 authors distanced themselves from part of the study in 2004 by publishing a "retraction of an interpretation." The General Medical Council called Wakefield's research methods "unethical," saying he had a "callous disregard" for children he carried out tests on.

In 2011, the British Medical Journal published a story about Wakefield, calling him a fraud.

The study, written by London journalist Brian Deer, said "the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare" revealed how the appearance of a link with autism was manufactured at a London medical school. Wakefield has said that his findings were "replicated in five countries around the world." However, experts claim the results of the study have never been replicated.

Parents made decisions not to get their child properly vaccinated after Wakefield's research came out, and over a decade later they are facing the consequences of that choice.

"Our best estimate indicates that there are approximately one third of a million 10-16 year-olds (around 8 percent) who are unvaccinated and another third of a million who need at least 1 further dose of MMR to give them full protection," PHE said. "It is also estimated that there are around another one third of a million children below and above this age band who need at least 1 further dose of MMR. The target population for this catch-up program is therefore of the order of one million doses."

PHE said that nearly 20 percent of the cases of measles in England were hospitalizations and 15 percent included complications such as pneumonia, chest infection, meningitis and gastroenteritis.

“Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so we are very disappointed that measles cases have recently increased in England," said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunization at PHE. "Those who have not been vaccinated should urgently seek at least 1 dose of MMR vaccination which will give them 95 percent protection against measles. A second dose is then needed to provide almost complete protection."

PHE has created a program aiming to prevent measles outbreak by vaccinating as many unvaccinated and partially vaccinated 10- to 16-year-olds as possible in time for the next school year.

“It is essential that we get ahead of measles and the only way to do this is to protect people before measles catches them," Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunization at the Department of Health, said. "The safety record of MMR is not in doubt and the best thing that parents can do, if their children have not had 2 doses of MMR, is to make an appointment with the GP now.”