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Julia Manning, Director of 2020health.org, says that discrediting new vaccines such as the MMR risks the lives of more than those who don’t take them.

Last week, 2020health.org held a seminar on the crucial role that modern vaccines have to play in
the delivery of Public Health in the UK. We heard a story from a
Consultant Paediatrician working in South East London about two
children who had previously received kidney transplants at the age of two. They
had had their first MMR jab but not the booster which is
contra-indicated following organ transplants. The children came into
contact with the measles virus and caught the disease. Both of them
suffered permanent brain damage.

This week, the General Medical
Council hearing begins into serious professional misconduct by Dr
Andrew Wakefield and two other doctors who published their damaging
theory of a link between the MMR vaccination jab and autism in 1998.
One of the accusations is that Dr Wakefield did not declare to his
hospital Ethics Committee that he was getting money from the Legal Aid
Board for advising the parents of autistic children who wanted to
pursue compensation in the courts. Only 3 years before in 1995, the
uptake rate of the vaccine had reached 95%, the target rate to achieve
‘herd immunity’. This is where the immunity of a sufficient number of
individuals in a population is such that infection of one individual
will not result in an epidemic. Every parent who declines the MMR jab
increases the risk not only to their child of serious disease, but also
the risk to many others. It is precisely this herd immunity that is
vital to protect people who are immunocompromised, which includes all
organ transplant recipients.

Despite both numerous publications
since finding no link between MMR and autism, and the fact that in 2004
the 10 co-authors of the 1998 paper issued a retraction, the take–up
has still not recovered. Nearly 10 years after publication of the
paper, the vaccination rate is still barely 50% in some London
boroughs, and the first six months of last year saw the biggest
outbreak of measles in 20 years. The consequences of Dr Wakefield’s
unfounded ideas are devastating.

There are two facts we need to
remember when we think about immunisations. Firstly, we must not forget
history – the suffering, disability and in many cases death that arose
before the introduction of universal vaccination for diseases such as
polio, measles, smallpox and whooping cough. It is all too easy to
forget how much good health most of us enjoy as a result of those
childhood jabs. We need as well to be open to new vaccines that will
protect future generations from disease. New vaccines emerging such as
those for hepatitis B, cervical cancer and chicken pox, not to mention
the search for a vaccine against HIV, could prevent much devastating
illness amongst significant numbers of the population.

And not
just the UK population. As secondly we must remember the global
benefits to developing countries of the vaccines that have been
developed in the West. Not only do vaccination programmes dramatically
improve mortality rates, but the consequential improvement in people’s
educational attainment, average income and productivity through disease
avoidance is measurable. The current work on vaccinations against
Malaria and HIV could transform the prospects of many African countries.

Despite
the evidence, there will still be campaigners outside the GMC in the
coming weeks who claim Dr Wakefield is a ‘hero’. It behoves us all to
remember that there is no such thing as risk-free medicine, and it is
good science to try and minimise those risks. However, it is patently
true that the benefits of vaccination vastly outweigh the risks. 1000
mothers still bury their children who have died from measles every day
in the developing world. This is an unnecessary tragedy, and we should
not make matters worse by discrediting life-saving Public Health
measures.

23 comments for: Julia Manning: Vaccinating for the greater good

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