Sunday, June 9, 2019

Measles in Hampton Bays: Why the Public Should Wake-Up and not Wake-Field

On Saturday, April 20, 2019, Suffolk County Health Officials confirmed that Hampton Bays residents were exposed to an individual with measles. This case was isolated from the outbreak in Rockland County, NY as the individual was briefly visiting the area from outside of the United States where he was exposed to measles.

The Rockland County Health Department has dealt with an eight-month outbreak leading to a total of 259 confirmed cases. Even more startling than the number of cases is the fact that more than 79% of those infected have not been vaccinated with even one dose of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from January 1 to May 31, 2019, 981** individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 26 states. The CDC states that this is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994, and since 2000 when measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. The resurgence of measles is no coincidence; the story begins with a fraudulent (and now unlicensed) doctor and ends with the public mistakenly believing that measles is just a “harmless childhood disease.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Dr. Bruce Farber, Chief of Infectious Diseases at North Shore University Hospital, delivered an important comment to Newsday regarding this measles case: “There are cases cropping up all over and the solution is vaccination… Measles is extraordinarily contagious. It is one of the most contagious, if not the most contagious infectious disease.”

Dr. Farber thankfully represents the majority of the public’s consensus that vaccinations are safe, effective and necessary against all infectious diseases in their aim to eliminate preventable suffering. While all vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control are necessary to avoid public health outbreaks and global pandemics, MMR vaccination is quite possibly the most important public health initiative.

The measles virus, described since the 9th century, is a highly communicable infection of the nose and throat which spreads through coughing and sneezing and is airborne for up to two hours. The  CDC reports that “measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” More than 92% of the population must be vaccinated against measles to maintain “herd” immunity against this virus which spreads like wildfire.

The misconception that measles is just a “harmless childhood disease” is dangerous; while measles can be a harmless infection for most, it can cause serious complications and even death. Measles can cause ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis, premature births and low-birth-weight.

Measles kills one to two children out of every 1,000 infected. Perhaps the worse complication associated with measles is Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare but fatal central nervous system disease which develops 7 to 10 years after a person has been infected with measles.

So how on earth did this misconception of measles being a “harmless childhood disease” come to be? It all started with the fraudulent activity of a former British Gastroenterologist, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose unethical behavior is likely to go down as one of the most serious crimes in medical history.

In 1998, Dr. Andew Wakefield and 12 colleagues published a case report in the British medical journal, the Lancet, which claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism. The case study was fundamentally flawed, as proper consent was not obtained from the invasive testing that a small group of children underwent outside of medical facilities. Following Wakefield’s Lancet publication, numerous large-scale studies were conducted which profoundly refuted the link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Shortly after the original publication in the Lancet, 10 of the 12 authors removed themselves from the
case study and the Lancet retracted the article in February 2010, admitting the failure to disclose the financial interests of Dr. Andrew Wakefield who was a paid expert for parents in litigation with manufactures of the MMR vaccine over claims that it caused their children’s autism. What’s more is that Wakefield was submitting a patent for his own version of the MMR vaccine. Based on all of his fraudulent activity, Dr. Andrew Wakefield was stripped of his medical license; he currently resides in
Texas and often contributes commentary for the anti-vaccine movement which has named him their
martyr. Andrew Wakefield just might be Public Health Enemy Number One, as every single measles
outbreak following his retracted publication has been linked to unvaccinated children.

The evidence in support of vaccinations is profound. Vaccines are the most studied medical
intervention, ever, and they have been proven to be safe and effective. There is no doubt that
vaccination programs are the key to preventing global pandemics. The MMR vaccine is safe and effective and families should refer to the CDC’s recommended schedule of vaccines and have a discussion with their provider if they have any concerns. If you are unsure of your vaccination status, please speak to your provider so that titers can be drawn to determine the potential need for additional vaccination.

“Scientists who publish their research have an ethical responsibility to ensure the highest standards of research design, data collection, data analysis, data reporting, and interpretation of findings; there can be no compromises because any error, any deceit, can result in harm to patients as well harm to the cause of science, as the Wakefield saga so aptly reveals. We sincerely hope that researchers will keep this ethical responsibility in mind when they submit their manuscripts...” 
--T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao and Chittaranjan Andrade, of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry

You can stay up-to-date about Rockland County’s measles outbreak here:

You can read the Newsday article which quoted Dr. Bruce Farber here:

You can read more about Dr. Andrew Wakefield here:

Angela Daly is a Cardiovascular Research Nurse at Southampton Cardiology. She is also a Board Member for Nurses Who Vaccinate, a Long-Island based Non-Profit which aims to position nurses as strong public health advocates for their families, their patients, their communities and the world.

**Cases as of May 31, 2019. Case count is preliminary and subject to change.