Prior to 1960, most children in the United States and Canada caught measles. Complications from the disease were unlikely. Previously healthy children usually recovered without incident.
In the 1960s, a measles vaccine was introduced. During the next several years, cases of the disease declined. However, a significant reduction in the severity of measles occurred long before the vaccine was introduced. For example, in 1900 there were 13.3 measles deaths in the United States per 100,000 people. By 1955 C eight years before the first measles vaccine became available C the death rate had declined on its own by 97.7% to .03 deaths per 100,000.(1) Data published in International Mortality Statistics shows that from 1915 to 1958 the measles death rate in the United States and United Kingdom declined by 98%.(2)
Eradication of Measles
When the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, health officials were confident that they could eradicate the disease by 1967.(3) That did not occur. In 1978, the federal government announced its new goal to eradicate measles from the U.S. by 1982.(4) That did not occur. In 1994, health authorities once again targeted measles for elimination from the Western Hemisphere by the year 2000.(5) Although the CDC officially declared that measles was eliminated in 2000, outbreaks continue to occur.
According to the CDC, as of June 27 of this year there were 539 cases of measles in the United States, out of a population of more than 318 million.(6) That is a very tiny number. The last time that somebody died from measles in the United States was 11 years ago.(7)
What is causing these small outbreaks of measles? According to authorities, decreasing vaccination rates are responsible. However, vaccine coverage rates in the United States have remained high and stable since 1996. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year for the past 17 years, about 92% of all 1-year-olds eligible for a measles vaccine (MMR) have been vaccinated.(8) Thus, if measles cases are on the rise, it cannot be blamed on decreasing vaccination rates.
Authorities also claim that unvaccinated people are contracting the disease and spreading it to others. However, a study published this year in Clinical Infectious Diseases showed that people who are fully vaccinated against measles can spread the disease to other people who are fully vaccinated against measles. Thus, vaccinated people are vectors for the disease.(9)
Another problem with the measles vaccine is that it may be technologically archaic, inadequate for the 21st century, out of alignment with current scientific knowledge about how the immune system operates. It was made to be given with a Aone dose fits all@ approach. It assumes that everyone is at equal risk of complications from disease and that their immune responses to the vaccine will be similar. However, a recent study confirmed that when healthy children are vaccinated against measles there is a wide variation in their antibody levels. The diversity of these inter-individual antibody responses may determine whether the vaccine is protective or ineffective when the vaccinated person is challenged by the disease.(10)
It is also important to note that in nearly every outbreak of measles, large percentages of the cases occur in people who were fully vaccinated against the disease. For example, in 1988, 69% of all school-aged children in the U.S. who contracted measles were adequately vaccinated.(11) In 1995, 56% of all measles cases in the U.S. occurred in people who were previously vaccinated.(12)