Fear Spreads as MMR Vaccination Rates Decline
Why is it parents are opting out of vaccinating their children?
Photo by Dr Partha Sarathi Sahana (Flickr)
by Megan Beckett
As the measles outbreak continues to spread throughout Europe, data released by NHS digital shows MMR vaccination rates have fallen again this year, marking a fourth year of decline. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella, diseases known for their high levels of infectivity and severe complications. This includes meningitis, deafness, complications during pregnancy and encephalitis, more commonly known as swelling of the brain.
After the highest number of measles cases in 8 years, 3 times higher than last year, MMR vaccinations are down at 91.2% this year, dropping from 91.6% last year. Additionally, only 87.2% of five-year-olds have had both MMR vaccinations required for immunity. This fails to meet the 95% vaccination rate recommended by the World Health Organisation and has resulted in 876 people in the UK this year diagnosed with measles – an otherwise preventable disease.
Vaccinations rely on herd immunity to be efficient. This is a concept with the purpose of vaccinating the majority of a population to act as a protective mechanism against those who are not vaccinated. This is due to there being fewer viable hosts for the disease to infect, therefore, it becomes unable to spread from person to person. When guidelines are not met, vulnerable groups, including the immunosuppressed and infants, become increasingly at risk of infection. This can lead to serious complications due to their limited immune response, rendering them unable to fight off infection. Additionally, 1 in 100 children will still be at risk of infection even after their second vaccination, displaying the importance of herd immunity and the small, but possible, risk of infection.
The fall in vaccination rates sparks cause for concern after recently recovering from the damage caused by Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent paper published in 1998. Within it, he faked a connection between the MMR vaccine and Autism. After his paper was debunked he was then found guilty of poor ethical standards for taking children's blood at his son’s birthday party. Unfortunately, at the time, his paper was taken seriously and picked up by the media after it was published in one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet. At the peak of the panic, MMR vaccination rates dropped to a dangerous low of 80%. This means those who missed their vaccinations after the scandal as a child are likely to be included in this years’ measles statistics.
Wakefield’s false claims have brought to light a movement of people nicknamed ‘anti-vaxxers’ who share the belief that vaccines are unsafe and unnecessary. The group has recently taken the spotlight on social media due to having some famous members. One of them is Kat Von D, who sparked controversy earlier this year after claiming she would not vaccinate her children. However, many people spoke out about her controversial opinions.
As the MMR vaccine has long been proven safe, it seems more needs to be done to pinpoint the main reasons for the decline, along with increasing people’s awareness and busting myths about vaccinations.