The Loss of Herd Immunity in the UK

By: Myles Power Edited by: Hannah
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In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published the now highly-discredited paper, ‘Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.’ The paper claimed that there was a link between Autism, the MMR vaccine, and a novel form of bowel disease (something often missed out by people who are against getting children vaccinated). For such controversial findings the paper had an unusually small sample size of only 12 children (11 of which were boys) who even before the study had a history of normal development, followed by loss of acquired skills, including language, together with diarrhoea and abdominal pain. To these children, Wakefield performed extensive, invasive procedures including colonoscopiesm, colon biopsies and lumbar punctures, without the approval of his department’s ethics board.
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Since the publication of the paper, other researchers have tried and failed to reproduce Wakefield’s results, or confirm his hypothesis via other methods. In fact many opposed to vaccinations are unaware that Wakefield’s paper itself was unable to prove a link between the MMR vaccination and autism – only speculating one – as it states, “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.” it is also a common misconception among these people that at the time of publication Wakefield himself was anti-vaccinations. This is mainly fuelled by the fact the he was paid to conduct the study by solicitors representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR vaccination. He was pro-vaccinations however, specifically in relation to single jabs against measles, mumps and rubella, which he is reported to have applied for patent on, before publication of the 1998 paper.
Unusually a press conference was held for Wakefield and his “research” in 1998. Even though the paper itself said that it could not prove a link, Wakefield was adamant that one between autism and the MMR jab had been found. Most medics and scientists saw the research for what it was – a very preliminary collection of data with a questionable conclusion. However, the British press saw it a very different way. The next day they screamed at the top of their lungs that doctors had found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism! Out of fear, worried parents stopped getting their children vaccinated with the MMR jab almost overnight. That fear soon turned into hysteria and they started to stop getting their children vaccinated altogether, even though the paper and author who started the whole controversy receptively said that the danger came from the MMR vaccination only. The situation was not helped when in 2001 the Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to say whether his son had received the MMR jab. It has now been 15 years since the publication of Wakefield’s paper and although the number of vaccinated children is now going up, there is still a large number of parents who are refusing to get their children vaccinated, out of fear of autism. These people are unknowingly posing a real threat to themselves, their children and others.
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Vaccinations, like everything in this world, are not 100% effective. You may have had a vaccination as a child for a specific disease, but there is always a chance that you did not get immunity from it. However you still rely on vaccinations to protect you from that specific disease because of herd immunity. This is when a significant portion of the population is successfully vaccinated against a disease which significantly decreases the probability that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infectious one. Basically it acts as a barrier preventing the disease from spreading in the population. By not getting your children vaccinated you are increasing the number of people susceptible and capable of transmitting the disease to other people, who may or may not have been vaccinated. This is what we are seeing in the UK at the moment where the levels of people vaccinated is so low that herd immunity is no longer protecting the vulnerable.
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Here in the North East of England the number of confirmed measles cases has topped 200 with an extra 176 suspected cases since September, compared to just 18 confirmed in 2011. The situation in South Wales is even worse, with 588 confirmed cases; 47 new ones since Wednesday. This has lead to long queues of worried parents outside hospitals waiting to get their children vaccinated with the MMR jab. This worry is justified, because measles is a serious disease where 20% of children infected will develop complications. Before the introduction of the MMR vaccination in the UK about 100 people died each year.
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Here in the UK we can see and talk to a GP (general practitioner) free of charge at short notice. All will tell you of the benefits and the potential dangers of not getting yourself or your child vaccinated. These medical professionals are not part of some government conspiracy to hurt your children. They simply want to vaccinate you and your children to prevent what is happening in South Wales and the North East of England. You have no excuse for not contacting them about your concerns and you can no longer rely on herd immunity to protect yourself and your children.
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Correction: This article has been republished. The original said that doctors do not get paid per vaccination they administer. According the the ‘General Medical Services Statement of Financial Entitlements Directions 2013’ childhood vaccines are seen as a additional service and target based payments are made to contractors here in the UK. 

 

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About Myles Power (613 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

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