Research by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found a significant increase in measles outbreaks in the USA between 2001 and 2015, despite a successful vaccination program virtually eliminating the disease's existence by 2000.
To reach their conclusions, a team of CDC researchers studied 1,789 cases of measles in the US over the fifteen-year period, finding that of those who contracted the illness during the era, 70 percent (1,243) were unvaccinated, while an additional 17.75 percent had an unknown vaccination status.
There’s no reason vaccine-preventable illnesses should rise in the US. https://t.co/9TVcQi3owu— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFrieden) October 4, 2017
Vaccination massively reduces the risk of contracting measles, and the slow but persistent growth in the incidence of the disease — which doubled from 0.28 cases per million people in 2001 to 0.56 cases per million in 2015 — indicates discredited scientific papers and conspiracy theories about vaccinations causing autism have had a deleterious effect on vaccination rates, putting individuals — specifically young children — at risk.
The 1,789 cases examined by the CDC team were all the documented cases for the time period — and while incidence of measles remains relatively low in the US (compared to the worldwide rate of 40 cases per million people annually), it perceptibly grew in the country over time.
Of 2,012 cases overall — including those reported by visitors to the US — only 535 were "imported" (ie evidenced in visitors or immigrants to the US), leaving 1,477 cases of measles contracted within the country.
Measles is a serious illness, the most vulnerable segment of any population being unvaccinated infants and toddlers, who are at a higher risk of fatal complications. The researchers also found incidence of measles does decline with age, highlighting the importance of protecting small children.
Although the study did have some limitations, primarily due to its inability to verify vaccination information in adult cases, it's not the first time failure to vaccinate has been linked with measles outbreaks — and moreover, previous modelling suggests failure to vaccinate can have negative effects on the broader community. This doesn't just involve outbreaks, but increased load on hospitals.
Although vaccinated individuals can still contract measles, vaccination drastically lowers the risk — and CDC's research underlines this vastly reduced prospect.
"Declining incidence with age, the high proportion of unvaccinated cases, and the decline in the proportion of vaccinated cases despite rate increases suggest failure to vaccinate, rather than failure of vaccine performance, may be the main driver of measles transmission, emphasizing the importance of maintaining high vaccine coverage," the researchers concluded.
The researchers place much of the blame for the resurgence in measles at the feet of Andrew Wakefield, a physician who was struck off the British Medical Register after publishing a 1998 study that claimed to find a connection between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella injection and autism.
In 2010, the British General Medical Council concluded Wakefield's study used deliberately falsified results to forge a consciously fraudulent conclusion, and the disgraced physician had done so in order to further his personal financial interests — he had filed a patent for an alternative MMR injection prior to publishing the paper.
Subsequent research has fairly conclusively established there is no link between vaccines and autism whatsoever, least of all a causal one, although many refuse to believe these conclusions, and fail to vaccinate their children as a result.
Nonetheless, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are almost as old as vaccines themselves. English scientist Edward Jenner innovated vaccines in 1798, using cowpox to immunize individuals against smallpox (hence the name vaccine, derived from "Vacca" — Latin for cow). As early as 1802, some were claiming getting the vaccination would turn recipients into cows.