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Measles Epidemic in Wales: An Example of What Can Happen


In November 2012, doctors in the Swansea area of Wales noted an increase in cases of measles among children and adolescents. In the few months since then, the number of cases has risen over 700, and over 50 children and adolescents have been hospitalized. Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease associated in up to 20% of cases with serious complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis.

This rise in the number of measles cases is taking place 15 years after public confidence in the safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) triple vaccine was severely damaged by allegations of a link between the vaccine and autism. The person responsible for these claims, which had particularly serious repercussions in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, was Andrew Wakefield, author of a study later shown to have been falsified. Wakefield was subsequently found guilty of scientific fraud and unethical conduct and lost his licence to practise medicine in the UK. He was recently expelled from the General Medical Council. The existence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been ruled out completely by numerous scientific studies and reports.

Vaccination rates have been recovering in the years since the 1998 scandal, but the children who did not receive the MMR at the proper time still constitute a vulnerable population. In recent weeks, more than 2500 people in Swansea have been vaccinated, but the epidemic has not yet been brought under control. Over 6000 children in the affected area have not yet received the vaccine; Swansea is still vulnerable and many children are still unprotected. The only protection against measles is the vaccine, which is safe and effective (90% protection with one dose, 99% protection with two doses).   

An example is sometimes worth a thousand words: Craig Thomas, father of two boys and one girl, made the following declaration to the BBC: “I wish I had vaccinated my children. The guilt is unbelievable. We wish we could turn the clocks back and have their injection. We never thought they would catch it. I just want to tell other parents it’s horrible to see your children ill. You have to do something before your children catch measles. You have to have them vaccinated. My advice to parents would be to get the MMR straight away rather than waiting to see what measles is like. There is no excuse for failing to get your children protected, and infected children can cause grave problems for others.” It could be said louder, but not more clearly.

In a recent statement that demonstrates the depth of his cynicism, Wakefield has suggested that the current measles epidemic is the responsibility of Public Health officials who were more concerned about protecting the MMR programme than protecting children. There is no greater fool than the person who does not know he is a fool. Wakefield, who was responsible for unethical and fraudulent studies, made statements to the press that he knew perfectly well to be untrue.  He became rich and famous. His actions caused many parents to lose confidence in a safe and effective vaccine and he is still an idol to antivaccination activists.  Even today, after being totally discredited, he has the effrontery to make statements to the press.  

Unfortunately, it is the children and parents of Wales who are facing the real consequences of his actions. The greatest risk related to a triple vaccine like the MMR is the failure of parents to use it to protect their children from measles, mumps and rubella.