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Mumps – an American tale…

Posted Mar 31 2010 12:00am

Vaccine Failure – Over 1000 Got Mumps in NY in Last Six Months screams the headline.  And it’s not even the Daily Mail!  It’s not new – February 8 – but as it’s linked to from a current article I see no reason why it shouldn’t be looked at closely. See *** at the end for the current article details and link.

Around 1,000 young Hasidic* Jews in New York state have contracted mumps since last summer, despite having been vaccinated, claims the article (and what the hell their religion has to do with anything I really have no idea).

(*The Jewish Chronicle refers to the people as Charedim, not Hasidim – and they should know, presumably. What the difference I really don’t know.)

“Vaccine failure” is disinformation (he said, choosing his words carefully), as towards the end of the article, they say exactly what I’m about to say – vaccines do not confer 100% immunity on 100% of people. It’s a well-known fact, not a secret, so why it’s being made an issue in this way baffles me.

It can’t possibly be because the author is in the “MMR vaccine causes autism” camp, now can it?

Vaccines work by triggering an immune-system response in your body – that’s why people often run a temperature, and/or feel crappy afterwards – the theory being that your body will subsequently recognise the organism and fire-up the now inbuilt protection if you encounter it.

That’s fine, but as your body is very unlikely to encounter the dead, or the live but deactivated, version of the virus that you’ve been vaccinated with, protection against the live and virulent form may not be perfect. I’ve made this point about the flu vaccine previously.

So you may possibly get a mild form of the illness even when you’ve been vaccinated. Possibly because an axe is being ground, there’s no mention of whether the victims were slightly affected or severely (so my guess is slightly, as a severe outbreak would have been gleefully seized upon as a failure of MMR, though that red herring pops up later). I clicked through to the original article on CNN (who also refer to Hasidim), and there’s no mention of severity there either, so I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that it wasn’t that severe, though four people ended up in hospital (it can be a problem in older males).

Patient zero in the US outbreak was an 11-year-old kid who returned from the UK last summer, where, according to CNN, there was a mumps epidemic (4,000 cases according to CNN – hell, I live here and that’s the first I’ve heard, and that’s way more cases than when swine flu was declared a pandemic!). Representatives of the Jewish community in which the kid stayed while in the UK are adamant that there has been no problem with their uptake of MMR. And it should also be born in mind that planes are flying incubators – getting off one with an infection you didn’t get on with isn’t exactly unknown. Worth thinking about…

And I do rather have a problem with cases over 6 months down the line being directly traceable back to one kid.

I’ve searched online for a 4,000-case UK outbreak – it’s not there. I’ve searched Google and I’ve also searched UK newspaper websites for “4,000 mumps cases” (without the quotes, and both with and without the year). I got zilch. The only mentions online are websites repeating the US outbreak tale. It appears to be a total fabrication. (If you know better, please, feel free to post a link to the information but, please, not to the US websites; and I need proof, not opinion.)

So, getting back on track, while some vaccines, like that for chickenpox, do confer totally effective immunity, it remains a fact, well-known in the medical profession (so I don’t know why it’s being ramped up into such a big deal in this instance), that many vaccines, as I said, confer less than 100% immunity on 100% of people.

The situation is far worse if you become infected shortly after vaccination (this is why you need some vaccines weeks or even months before travelling abroad), as efficacy may well be zero – it can take a while for maximum immunity to build up, usually a couple of weeks.

And some may be slightly ill even if they have full protection, as the mobilising of their immune system is enough to make some people feel a bit crappy for a few days, just as with the vaccine. There’s no indication whether or not this was the case here.

A question, though – would someone vaccinated with the strain of mumps virus prevalent in America actually be vulnerable to the strain common in the UK?

Or, perhaps, do US formulations of portmanteau vaccines like MMR differ sufficiently from those in the UK to leave people vulnerable to UK viruses?

Any immunologists out there with an answer?

By the way, the CDC said the vaccine wasn’t 100% effective which, in this instance, may actually have been a huge understatement, as mumps spread widely through the community. I’d love to know how the CDC rates its actual efficacy – 90%? 10%? – who the hell knows? And what proportion of that Jewish community was affected? Just saying a couple of hundred gives no idea of scale when you don’t know how many people there are anyway. For example, in a population of, say, 25,000, the outbreak represents about 1%; not exactly massive.

In conclusion, it’s perfectly fair to say that vaccines do work, but as with so much else in life, not always perfectly. However, if you do become infected after you’ve been vaccinated – and after the requisite time has elapsed – you are likely to be very much less severely affected than you would otherwise be. To make that into a headline and article claiming vaccination had failed is pretty despicable.

On the subject of immunity, it’s probably worth going off at something of a tangent and mentioning that the main component of pandemic swine flu (as opposed to ordinary swine flu), is the human H1N1 flu virus, which most people in their 40s and older will almost certainly have already encountered. That, I believe, is why it was  mostly people in their 30s and under who were so badly affected by swine flu – no naturally-acquired resistance to H1N1. One reason that I declined the vaccine. And the annual flu vaccine, which usually makes me very ill, had no effect at all this year, suggesting that it, too, was a virus to which I already had immunity.

*** That story is predicated on trying to make out that the pro-MMR research of a guy who subsequently absconded with a load of dosh is somehow undermined by his criminal action. I’m not buying that at all. There may possibly be valid reasons for looking closely at the research – his being a thief isn’t one of them. It’s a crock.

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