As I described previously, an ill-founded scare about the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) caused vaccine rates in England to plummet.
Children and adults in England are now paying the price. Due to lowered vaccine coverage, there have already been 1,200 cases of measles in England this year. Last year, there were 2,000 cases in the entire year, so we may be on track to break that unhappy record.
This sort of thing is a good demonstration that simply having better, first-world hygiene, nutrition, and medical care can’t prevent these illnesses without vaccination. And, England is no out-of-the-way place–they are only a short jet ride away from us in North America. That’s a cheerful thought.
Even if you catch the measles and survive without getting meningitis and brain damage, that doesn’t mean that you’re out of the woods.
People who have had and recovered from measles are at life-long risk of another condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. The measles virus hangs on in your brain cells, and later gives you behavioral and personality changes, seizures, spasms, difficulty walking, and coma. Think of it as a having a sort of combination of strokes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Unless caught very early, there is no treatment, and death then becomes 95% certain within about 1-3 years.
Vaccines prevent SSPE of course. If you can’t catch measles, you can’t go on to get SSPE.
So, Wakefield and those who continue to push his debunked lies have prepared England and elsewhere for another wave of disease years or decades down the line that in some ways is far worse than the initial measles.
As always, actions–or inaction–have consequences, sometimes decades down the road.