Simanaitis Says

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ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2016, the Pan American Health Organization declared that “The Region of the Americas is the first in the world to have eliminated measles, a viral disease that can cause severe health problems, including pneumonia, brain swelling and even death. This achievement culminates a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas.”

Image from Autism Speaks.

Would that this two-decade effort continued. However, a resurgence of measles appears to be occurring as a byproduct of populist ignorance of science.

This ignorance traces, ironically and tragically enough, from a 1998 paper published in Britain’s The Lancet medical journal, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular Hyperplasia, Non-specific Colitis, and Pervasive Development Disorder in Children,” by A.J. Wakefield et al. Its controversial theme proposed a direct link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

Initially, a scientific red flag was raised when other researchers were unable to replicate the results (a key element of legitimate science). Another popped up when financial conflicts were disclosed on the part of the paper’s principal author.

The paper was fully retracted by The Lancet in 2010, its editor-in-chief describing it as “utterly false.” The BMJ, originally the British Medical Journal, described the paper as an “elaborate fraud.”

Autism Speaks is a U.S. autism advocacy organization founded in 2005. It has since merged with the National Alliance for Autism Research (in 2006) and Cure Autism Now (in 2007). Autism Speaks also works with the Autism Coalition for Research and Education.

The organization is not without controversy. Its belief that autism is a disease, with potentially a cure, rankles some associated with the autistic. For a time, Autism Speaks also supported the purported link between MMR immunization and autism.

However, in April 20, 2015, Autism Speaks cited research involving more than 95,000 children. Of those studied, 15,000 were unvaccinated two- to five-year-olds and nearly 2000 were already considered at high risk for autism.

The paper, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded, “In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD [autism spectrum disorders], regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD.”

However, alas, sometimes it’s difficult to keep an alternative fact down.

There are more than a few websites, Age of Autism is one, claiming the link exists. And, apparently, there are people who believe them despite the scientific evidence suggesting otherwise; science, by the way, that continues.

If these were merely Flat-Earthers, I’d say it’s all in good fun. However, these people are putting the rest of society at risk.

Despite widespread, and generally successful, efforts at MMR vaccination, measles remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the world. Yet, even in developed countries, immunization controversies persist.

For example, in December 2014 a measles outbreak, traced to Disneyland in Orange County, California, spread through a half-dozen U.S. states, Canada and Mexico. There were 147 infected people, many of whom were not vaccinated. The initial carrier was never identified.

No deaths were reported, though its reach was far-ranging: According to NBC News on April 15, 2016, “… it is still active in the Canadian province of Quebec, where 159 people were sickened. Most belong to a tight-knit religious community with a low vaccination rate.”

On April 7, 2017, NPR reported “As Measles Surge in Europe, Officials Brace for a Rough Year.” The March 31, 2017, issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, corroborates this: “Inadequate vaccination of children and young adults is fueling an outbreak of measles in Italy, say experts at the Italian ministry of health and the country’s disease control agency.” Reported in the first quarter of 2017 were 1010 cases of measles, compared with 866 cases in all of 2016.

Science cites an interesting fact from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: To maintain what’s termed “herd immunity,” the vaccination rate should be at least 95 percent. In Italy, the rate was 90.3 percent for two-year-olds in 2013. It dropped to 85.3 percent in 2015.

Here in California, all kids enrolled in public or private daycare, preschool, elementary, junior or high school must have doses of ten vaccines, including MMR. In its original 2014 form, exemptions were permitted based on religious or personal beliefs. Phased in during 2016, and not without controversy, an exemption is now granted only through a doctor’s statement on medical grounds.

The matter is far from over. On January 21, 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that a “Measles Outbreak Grows in L.A.’s Orthodox Jewish Community Despite California’s Strict New Vaccination Law.”

The science continues. And so do other aspects of this. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017


  1. jlalbrecht64
    April 10, 2017

    So sad to see this happening in our once great country. The spirit of anti-intellectualism and anti-science is depressing.

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