Why my children were vaccinated against measles
So here we go again. An outbreak of measles, this time in America — but let’s face it, it could have been virtually anywhere these days — with more children unnecessarily suffering a nasty, highly-contagious and, in rare cases, fatal disease.
As a parent, I struggle to understand the logic behind opting out of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
My twin daughters were born in October 1997. The research report suggesting a link between measles and autism was published in the medical journal, The Lancet, in 1998 and so the controversy was attracting huge media attention right at the time we were scheduled to MMR vaccinate our beautiful infants at the beginning of 1999.
My initial instinct was a resounding No. Can we vaccinate against 2/3 and skip measles? No, the manufacturers supply the vaccines ready mixed. Ok, not happening. It’s too risky. My husband, on the other hand, leaned towards vaccination. I knew I held the trump card as the children could not be vaccinated without the consent of both parents. The shrewd children’s nurse, to whom our children were allocated from the day they came home from hospital until they were six (when the school health care system took over), was in favour of vaccination but, reluctant to take sides, she did nothing to dissuade me from my newfound conviction. She did, however, take the time to provide me with pre-Google data, facts and figures, and asked me to read them with an open mind.
It was a huge dilemma. The data indicated a link to autism and a small risk. Measles posed a smaller but potentially fatal risk. And the latter risk would increase as more parents opted out of the vaccination programme. What were the odds? I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place.
I did a little basic research of my own by asking other mothers whether their older children had been given the MMR vaccine. By default, they all had, because their children were all vaccinated before the autism/MMR link research report had been published. But how many of the umpteen children I knew had autism? None.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the MMR vaccine was the lesser of the two evils. As much as I would regret inadvertently ‘injecting a child with autism’, I would regret burying a child due to measles infinitely more. Both our girls were then given the MMR vaccine.
And the MMR controversy rumbles on. Despite the fact that the research was proven to be fraudulent, that The Lancet retracted the report in its entirety in 2010 and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield (who, admittedly, has continued to defend his findings) lost his licence to practice medicine in the UK.
This is a controversy that simply will not go away.
Now here we are, 17 years after the initial storm, and it seems both the number of autistic children and the number of measles cases have increased.
There are many parents who are convinced the MMR vaccine triggered autism in their child. Let me say, quite clearly, that my heart bleeds for each and every one of those parents and children involved. But let me also say that I believe timing plays a huge part in that conviction. The age for administering the MMR vaccination generally coincides with the first alarming autistic symptoms presenting in children. A link is an obvious conclusion to draw, but can timing in itself suffice as evidence of a link? Not in my book. It could easily be coincidental.
And yet there is no denying the rising number of children diagnosed with autism. Are we merely more aware of the condition and quicker to diagnose? There are numerous cases of adults being diagnosed in middle age. Cases that are not included in autism in children statistics from their own generation.
Then there are the changes in our lifestyles, eating habits, the environment in which we live. The plastics and chemicals to which we are exposed. The bottom line is that we simply do not know why the number of autistic children is rising.
But we do know that measles can leave permanent damage and kill.
And THIS is why my children were vaccinated against measles.