Vaccine Smarts
By Dr. Richard Rupp and  Bridget Hawkins

Our family will soon celebrate my son’s first birthday but I am apprehensive because it also means it is time for his first measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

I know that medical experts say there is no connection between vaccines and autism, but I’m still nervous. I don’t see any measles around. What do you think about waiting until my son is a couple years older?

Diane
Galveston
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Dear Diane,

We want to reassure you that there is no link between autism and vaccines.

We realize that parents do not see measles, mumps or rubella around so it is hard for them to justify giving their child a vaccine to prevent a disease that does not appear to be a big problem in America.

The MMR vaccine is very effective, and the diseases seem to disappear when 90 to 95 percent of the population is vaccinated.

It has been said time and again that the success of vaccines has been their own worst enemy. Young parents have not seen the horrors of the diseases that vaccines prevent; and as a consequence of this, they have a hard time weighing the real risks.

Measles is a nasty disease that is recognized by a high fever, bloodshot eyes, white spots on the inside of the mouth and a rash and can cause serious complications resulting in blindness, severe diarrhea, neurological problems and even death.

According to the World Health Organization in 2011, there were about 18 deaths from measles each hour, mostly children under the age of 5.

Mumps starts out with flulike symptoms and results in swelling of salivary glands that give a lumpy appearance to the area located just below the ear. Mumps is typically a mild disease in children, but can be more serious in adults.

Rubella causes a low-grade fever, nausea and rash in children but adults with rubella can develop arthritis and painful joints.

If a female contracts rubella while pregnant, her child may develop congenital rubella syndrome which typically results in heart disease, deafness and eye problems such as cataracts during their infancy.

Look at what happened in England after a now-discredited British report claimed that vaccines cause autism. There has been a decrease in MMR vaccination rates and measles cases are up to 1,200 this year and 2,000 last year.

The surge comes about 10 years after the report and British officials are stepping up efforts to immunize 10- to 16-year-olds.

Just remember that many of these diseases are only a jet flight away. The news is full of stories of vaccine-preventable diseases being spread by travelers bringing diseases from one country to another.

You can protect your family by getting everyone, including your son, vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella now rather than when he is a few years older. The sooner the better.

Dr. Richard Rupp is a pediatrician and member of UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D., is the assistant director of the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. This column is supported by a UTMB President’s Cabinet Award to provide information about vaccines. Visit www.utmb.edu/scvd/vaccinesmarts for more information.