Dr. Melissa Held of Connecticut Children’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, was recently featured in the Town Times for her response to a ‘Letter to the Editor’ titled, “Just Say NO to Vaccines,” written by retired physician and self-described conspiracy theorist, Susan McIntosh. Today, we break down Dr. Held’s response to help separate fact from fiction when it comes to vaccines and the important role they play in your child’s health.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I trained in medicine and pediatrics at Cornell and Yale University and practice as a board-certified pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. I am also an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the Assistant Dean of Medical Education there. I have dedicated my life and career to the health and well-being of children and in the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases – including vaccine-preventable illnesses. Importantly, I strongly believe in evidence-based and rigorously studied clinical practice.
How did the myth concerning vaccines and any sort of link to autism come about?
The “evidence” behind this proposed association came from a study by Wakefield et al. in 1998 that made a link between the thimerosol-containing Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. However, the study was subsequently discredited and the author found to be guilty of research fraud, unethical treatment of children, and multiple conflicts of interest. The publisher retracted the paper and the author lost his medical license. Dr. McIntosh might consider this evidence of yet another conspiracy theory and she is welcome to her opinion. However, I believe the scientific evidence speaks for itself.
Is there research that suggests there is no connection between the two?
Yes! In fact, multiple high quality research studies have found NO LINK between the MMR vaccine and autism. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and multiple other professional societies all substantiate these findings. Additionally, no other vaccine ingredients have been found to be harmful or cause autism. In 2011, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on eight vaccines given to children and adults found that with very rare exceptions, vaccines are very safe. Vaccine manufacturers and regulatory agencies make sure that vaccines are produced in a way that is both safe and effective or they do not make it to market.
Is it true measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases; however very much preventable with the use of vaccines?
Yes, Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases known; it is actually far more contagious than Ebola. Complications from measles are most common in young children and older adults and can cause significant disability or death even in previously healthy individuals. One of every 1000 people with measles will develop acute encephalitis (swelling of the brain) which can result in permanent brain damage. One or two of every 1000 children infected with measles will die from respiratory or neurologic complications. There are also rare but potential long-term or fatal central nervous system degenerative diseases that can result from measles infection. The WHO estimates there were 145,700 deaths globally from measles in 2013. Thankfully, the efficacy of the measles vaccine in preventing illness is actually 97% after only two doses. Although the protection offered by vaccines is lower than that following natural disease, both serologic (blood) and epidemiologic evidence has shown that most people have long-term and probably lifelong immunity after vaccination.
Any last thoughts concerning vaccines?
I’d just like to reiterate that there is no scientific evidence that multiple vaccines overwhelm a child’s immune system and the recommended vaccine administration schedule is specifically designed for vaccines to be as effective as possible. However, if you do have questions about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, please seek out reputable, evidence-based resources such as those from the CDC, AAP and WHO and discuss those concerns with your child’s pediatrician.