Let’s talk about measles…

In 2014 there were 644 documented measles infections according to the CDC. For comparison, in the last 12 years there were never more than 250 confirmed cases each year. As of this writing, there are already 102 confirmed cases in 2015. That statistic can be safely filed under Y for Yikes! So why is a viral infection which was declared eliminated in the US suddenly reappearing? The simple answer is a lack of vaccination. The refusal to vaccinate for a preventable disease is allowing this highly contagious virus to gain a foothold in the US once again. Refusal rates continue to rise despite overwhelming evidence for the safety and efficacy of this vaccine. Therefore, let me try to briefly explain why vaccines are not evil.

What are vaccines?

I still think there is a huge misconception about what exactly happens when a person gets vaccinated. So let me tell you a brief story to help illustrate. In the 1790s a country doctor named Edward Jenner performed what was essentially the worlds first vaccination. Jenner simply noted that milk maids displaying cowpox sores (which they got from the cattle) were immune to the smallpox outbreaks that often spread through the area. So Jenner took the pus (yummy) from a cowpox sore on the hand of a milk maid and inoculated an 8-year-old boy. Six weeks later Jenner exposed the boy to smallpox several times but the child remained healthy. Despite the obvious lack of research ethics, this was a landmark observation that would become the basis of future vaccine research. It turns out that Jenner was also a tad bit lucky. The cowpox virus is so closely related to the smallpox virus that it provided adequate protection against that disease. I am sure you all know the ending of this story, but if not..spoiler alert. Smallpox was eradicated.

So why tell this story? Because it nicely highlights that vaccination is just copying or mimicking the natural defense your body already has in place. The milk maids immune system responded to the cowpox virus and formed a “memory”. So when a new virus came along that looked eerily similar to the prior memory the immune system acted swiftly and efficiently. It knew what to do from previous experience. This contained the virus stopping it before it could wreak havoc, thus the maids did not get ill. Jenner elegantly used this knowledge to pass the protection on to the child. We did not invent the mechanisms involved in this process, we simply found a way to bypass getting sick while still developing long-lasting immunity. What could be better than that?! So the next time someone tries to tell you about the evils of vaccines, just remember that it is the natural way your body reacts to any foreign invader, regardless of how it got there. So you have two options: get protection from a needle stick or wait until someone infected coughs in your face and get seriously ill.

The decision is yours.

Edward Jenner says
Edward Jenner says “Seriously. You still haven’t been vaccinated?”

One thought on “Let’s talk about measles…

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