The measles outbreak that started in Disneyland has generated a fair amount of activity at The Child Development Center lately.
Many of our patients are either un- or under- vaccinated, according to the Vaccine Gods, so an increase in a preventable childhood disease in the U.S. is a very important healthcare issue.
In response to the media stories, and with the intention of addressing parents’ concerns, The Center emailed our patients.
The advice that was offered:
a. If the child has never had a vaccination, it is best to “bite the bullet” and go ahead with an MMR. We’re in the middle of an outbreak and it’s a very small world.
b. If the child has been previously vaccinated for MMR, you could get “measles-mumps-rubella titers”. This is a blood test to determine if the child is still immune to the diseases, so it may be OK to hold off for now.
There were a variety of interesting responses.
Parent: “Thanks, Dr. Udell, for the heads up.”
Dr. U: You’re welcome. I’m just a messenger. Parents are the ones who have to make the final decision.
Parent: “What if the child has antibodies to eggs (allergy)?”
Dr. U: That is a big problem. I would look over the most recent laboratory tests and, depending on the child’s present state of health, and other findings, possibly still have to recommend. For what it’s worth, two of the products are actually grown on chick embryo, and almost all of our yolk-and/or-white-positive patients are negative to chicken. The German measles strain is grown on lung tissue derived from human fetus. We don’t test for that.
Parent: “Can’t you break up the shots?
Dr. U: No, the company that used to produce separates stopped years ago.
Parent: “My child was severely damaged by that shot. I’m surprised that you made this recommendation.”
Dr. U: It’s situational ethics, in a medical setting. I sympathize with your plight. Not only is there conflicting research; cases, such as yours, are completely ignored. Nevertheless, measles carries a 1/1000 chance of encephalitis (brain infection).
After listening to so many complaints of proximate injury to an inoculation, it seemed that the best advice was to hold off vaccinating until the child improved, and/or the cause(s) of inflammation was discovered. There was little evidence of a rise in disease, so I felt less concern for the ‘herd’ than the family sitting in my office. The plan was to vaccinate a healthier child in 1-2 years, utilizing a judicious make-up protocol, if the parents agreed.
Each family will address this news differently, and act on their decision based upon what they consider as their child’s best interest. Questions and concerns persist. An epidemiologist just published a York Times editorial suggesting that there would be increased compliance if it were more difficult to obtain an exemption.
The line between the ‘good of the many’ and the ‘good of the one’ has shifted. Once the seal is broken, so to speak, and fewer than ~90% of the susceptible population is protected, there can be no accurate prediction of whether/where/when/how severe another outbreak will occur. The choice returns to the ‘good of the one’, so prevention is paramount.
The reality is that, if the AMA, AAP, FDA and CDC would express less dogma, become more sympathetic to those who claim injury, make fewer errors, and perform prospective studies to demonstrate efficacy and universal safety, parents wouldn’t be forced to make such a crucial decision on their own.