The Risks and Health Complications Related to the MMR Vaccine

Let the hysteria begin! Or not.

Before everyone starts panicking and racing out to get vaccinated. Please take some time to learn the truth about measles, and about the MMR vaccine.

Nearly three years ago there was another “big scare” when two cases of measles were tied to people who visited the Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis. That “outbreak” resulted in near-hysteria in three states and a huge media campaign to blame parents of children who had not received the MMR vaccine. Did you hear about it? Yeah. It didn’t last long. And guess what? Nobody died.

I wrote about it at the time, and since I collected a lot of information then, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel for this “outbreak.”

Here is the article from USA Today, which was written about the Indiana outbreak. I’m sure there will be similar articles regarding the Disneyland “outbreak.”

Dr. John Christenson of Riley Hospital for Children here said in an email that although measles can be a fatal disease, it is also preventable.

Parents should take this opportunity to make sure their children are up to date on their shots, he said.

“While some parents may have concerns about the MMR vaccine, there is no evidence that this vaccine causes autism or other chronic adverse conditions,” Christenson said, referring to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine that is a recommended childhood vaccination and usually needed to attend school.

Dr. Christenson’s statements are likely to be repeated by other doctors and by Public Health officials in California, so let’s examine what Dr. Christenson says.

“Measles can be a fatal disease.” This is true. It is more likely to be fatal if you happen to live in a third-world country than if you live in the United States.

The CDC has this to say about the severe complications from measles:

Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.
For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

The statement that 1 out of 1,000 “children” who get measles will die from it is misleading. That’s because those numbers are based on the global measles problem; not measles in the United States.

When I wrote the article on the Indiana “outbreak” in 2012, there was a CDC MMWR publication I used and linked to, to show how inflated the 1/1000 number was. That publication has either been moved or taken down. I will try to find it and include it here, but for now I have to leave this information without the citation (due to limited time). In the CDC’s MMWR report on measles, it stated there are approximately 20 Million cases of measles each year worldwide and of those cases, there are approximately 197,000 deaths. This appears to be where they are getting their figure of 1 or 2 deaths per 1,000 cases. The MMWR report also stated that about 1/2 of the deaths from measles occur in India. So if half of the roughly 200,000 deaths from measles occurs in India, then the rest of the world splits the remaining 100,000 deaths per year. That still sounds like a lot. And SOME of them were children – not all. So the 1 in 1,000 deaths among children statement just doesn’t make sense, unless you are talking about children in third-world countries.

My friend Dawn wrote a great article called Putting Measles Into Perspective, which was published here on VaxTruth. In her article, Dawn points out that prior to the availability of the measles vaccine, which was licensed in 1963, the number of yearly measles deaths in the U.S. was approximately 450.

Here is a photo Dawn used in her article, to demonstrate a more likely estimate of the risk of U.S. citizens dying from measles:

Dawn writes:

Also, consider that in 1963, the population was 189,241,798. That means that prior to the vaccine, the percentage of the entire US population that died from measles was .000237%.

.000237% is a very small number. What this means is that prior to the availability of the measles vaccine in the U.S., between 2 and 3 people out of every ONE MILLION U.S. citizens died from measles complications. Are you feeling a little better now about the “outbreak” of measles at Disneyland? I hope so.

Dr. Christenson states: “Measles is also preventable. Parents should take this opportunity to make sure their children are up to date on their shots.”

The implication of Dr. Christenson’s statement is that vaccines will prevent your child from getting measles. Is this true?

Here are a few studies that do not support Dr. Christenson’s statement:

“The phenomenon of declining vaccine efficacy may have become more pronounced in recent years because there has been less exposure to measles infection; we have found that exposure to natural measles is important in maintaining protective antibody levels among vaccinated children.” (citation)
Clin. Invest. Med., vol. 11, no. 4, August 1988, pp. 304-9: “Measles serodiagnosis during an outbreak in a vaccinated community” – From a group of 30 measles-sufferers displaying IgM antibodies during the acute phase of illness, 17 had been vaccinated for measles. All 17 experienced measles again, showing IgM antibodies indicating acute infection. “A history of prior vaccination is not always associated with immunity nor with the presence of specific antibodies.” (citation)
Boulianne N, et al.(1991) [Major measles epidemic in the region of Quebec despite a 99% vaccine coverage]. Can J Public Health. 1991 May-Jun;82(3):189-90. French. PMID: 1884314; UI: 91356447. The 1989 measles outbreak in the province of Quebec has been largely attributed to an incomplete vaccination coverage. In the Quebec City area (pop. 600,000) 1,363 confirmed cases of measles did occur. A case-control study conducted to evaluate risk factors for measles allowed us to estimate vaccination coverage. It was measured in classes where cases did occur during the outbreak. This population included 8,931 students aged 5 to 19 years old. The 563 cases and a random sample of two controls per case selected in the case’s class were kept for analysis. The vaccination coverage among cases was at least 84.5%. Vaccination coverage for the total population was 99.0%. Incomplete vaccination coverage is not a valid explanation for the Quebec City measles outbreak. (citation)
Davis RM, et al.(1987) A persistent outbreak of measles despite appropriate prevention and control measures. Am J Epidemiol. 1987 Sep;126(3):438-49. PMID: 3618578; UI: 87295970. From January 4 to May 13, 1985, an outbreak of 137 cases of measles occurred in Montana and persisted for 12 generations of spread. A total of 114 cases occurred on the Blackfeet Indian reservation in northwest Montana. Of the 137 cases, 82 (59.9%) were in school-aged children (aged 5-19 years). Of the 114 cases on the reservation, 108 (94.7%) were classified as programmatically nonpreventable. A total of 64 (82.1%) of the 78 patients on the reservation who were born after 1956 and were above the recommended age at vaccination had a history of adequate measles vaccination. Additionally, an audit of immunization records at the schools in Browning, Montana, where most of the cases occurred, showed that 98.7% of students were appropriately vaccinated. A retrospective cohort study in the Browning schools failed to identify age at vaccination or time since vaccination as significant risk factors for vaccine failure. Overall vaccine efficacy was 96.9% (95% confidence interval =89.5-98.2%). None of 80 Browning students who were vaccinated at less than 12 months of age and revaccinated at 15 months of age or older became infected. A case-control study showed a significant association between attendance at Browning basketball games and infection early in the outbreak. This outbreak suggests that measles transmission may persist in some settings despite appropriate implementation of the current measles elimination strategy. (citation)
Barratta et al. (1970) investigated an outbreak of measles in Florida from Dec 1968-1969 and found there was little difference in the incidence of measles in vaccinated and unvaccinated children. (citation). Note: There is no abstract for this article on pubmed. This link provides more information.
Gustafson TL, (1987) Lievens AW, Brunell PA, Moellenberg RG, Buttery CM, Sehulster LM. Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population. N Engl J Med 1987 Mar 26;316(13):771-4 An outbreak of measles occurred among adolescents in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the spring of 1985, even though vaccination requirements for school attendance had been thoroughly enforced. Serum samples from 1806 students at two secondary schools were obtained eight days after the onset of the first case. Only 4.1 percent of these students (74 of 1806) lacked detectable antibody to measles according to enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and more than 99 percent had records of vaccination with live measles vaccine. Stratified analysis showed that the number of doses of vaccine received was the most important predictor of antibody response. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals of seronegative rates were 0 to 3.3 percent for students who had received two prior doses of vaccine, as compared with 3.6 to 6.8 percent for students who had received only a single dose. After the survey, none of the 1732 seropositive students contracted measles. Fourteen of 74 seronegative students, all of whom had been vaccinated, contracted measles. In addition, three seronegative students seroconverted without experiencing any symptoms. We conclude that outbreaks of measles can occur in secondary schools, even when more than 99 percent of the students have been vaccinated and more than 95 percent are immune. (citation)
MMWR Measles in an Immunized School-Aged Population — New Mexico Vol 34, No 04;052 02/01/1985. The school system reported that 98% of students were vaccinated against measles before the outbreak began.. (citation)
So, you probably get the picture by now. If you want to see more studies documenting vaccine failure for measles, I suggest you go here.

Dr. Christenson says:

“While some parents may have concerns about the MMR vaccine, there is no evidence that this vaccine causes autism or other chronic adverse conditions,” Christenson said, referring to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine that is a recommended childhood vaccination and usually needed to attend school.

Let’s break this one down.

“…there is no evidence that this vaccine causes autism or other chronic adverse conditions.”

First, let me say that I personally believe Andrew Wakefield’s report, in which he stated there “may be” an association between MMR, gastrointestinal disease and autism was correct. If you believe that makes everything I say suspect, then there is probably very little I can do to convince you otherwise. Did you know Dr. Wakefield’s research has been replicated? It has. In at least 28 studies in multiple different countries. I know his observations have been replicated because even those who are trying to refute his findings have replicated them. See my article, Only 5 of 25 if you doubt the veracity of this statement.

Here are a few other studies that have reported an association between autism and MMR vaccine:

Detection and sequencing of measles virus from peripheral mononuclear cells from patients with inflammatory bowel disease and autism.
Vijendra K. Singh, Sheren X. Lin, and Victor C. Yang, “Serological Association of Measles Virus and Human Herpesvirus-6 with Brain Autoantibodies in Autism,” Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology, Oct 1998, Vol. 89, No. 1, p 105-108.
Oleske, J. “Elevated rubeola [measles] titers in autistic children.” Abstract presented by D. Zecca and Dr. Graffino at an NIH meeting (September 23, 1997). As quoted by Richard Gallup in “Autism and autoimmunity.” (citation) (April 15, 2002.)
Regardless of what you believe about the MMR/Autism debate, Dr. Christenson has stated (as others no doubt will also state) that there is no evidence of other chronic adverse conditions. Is THIS part of his statement true?


Here are a few articles from the peer-reviewed medical literature, documenting some of the “other chronic adverse conditions” from MMR vaccination:

Neurological disorders:

Schneck, S.A. “Vaccination with measles and central nervous system disease.” Neurology1968; 18 (Part 2):79-82.
Jabbour, J.T., et al. “Epidemiology of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).” Journal of the American Medical Association1972; 220:959-62.
Belgamwar, R.B., et al. “Measles, mumps, rubella vaccine induced subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.” Journal of the Indian Medical Association1997; 95(11):594.
Landrigan, P.J., et al. “Neurological disorders following live measles-virus vaccination.” Journal of the American Medical Association1973; 223 (13):1459-62.
Miller, C.L. “Convulsions after measles vaccination.” Lancet (September 17, 1983).
Beale, A.J. “Measles vaccines.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine1974; 67:1116-1119.
Jagdis, F., et al. “Encephalitis after administration of live measles vaccine.” Journal of the Canadian Medical Association(April 19, 1975); 112(8):972-75.
Hirayama, M. “Measles vaccines used in Japan.” Reviews of Infectious Diseases1983; 5:495-503.
Pollock, T.M., et al. “A 7-year survey of disorders attributed to vaccination in Northwest Thames Region.” Lancet1983; 1:753-57.
Jorch, G. et al. “Coincidence of virus encephalitis and measles-mumps vaccination.” Monatsschr Kinderheilkd1984; 132(5):299-300.
Martinon-Torres, F., et al. “Self-limited acute encephalopathy related to measles component of viral triple vaccine.” Rev Neurol(May 1-15, 1999); 28(9):881-82.
Grose, C., et al. “Guillain-Barre syndrome following administration of live measles vaccine.” American Journal of Medicine1976; 60:441-43.
Morris, K., et al. “Guillain-Barre syndrome after measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.” Lancet 1994; 343:60.
Serious Blood Disorders:

Oski, F.A. and Naiman, J.L. “Effect of live measles vaccine on the platelet count.” New England Journal of Medicine1966; 265:352-56.
Bottiger, M., et al. “Swedish experience of two dose vaccination programme aiming at eliminating measles, mumps, and rubella.” British Medical Journal1987; 295:1264-67.
Koch, J. et al. “Adverse events temporally associated with immunizing agents�1987 report.” Canada Diseases Weekly Report1989; 15:151-58.
Fescharek, R., et al. “Measles-mumps vaccination in the FRG: an empirical analysis after 14 years of use. II. Tolerability and analysis of spontaneously reported side effects.” Vaccine1990; 8:446-56.
Nieminen, U., et al. “Acute thrombocytopenic purpura following measles, mumps and rubella vaccination: A report on 23 patients.” Acta Paediatrica1993; 82:267-70.
146. Farrington, P., et al. “A new method for active surveillance of adverse events from diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis and measles/mumps/rubella vaccines.” Lancet1995; 345: 567-69.
Jonville-Bera, A.P., et al. “Thrombocytopenic purpura after measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination: a retrospective survey by the French Regional Pharmacovigilance Centres and Pasteur-Merieux Serums et Vaccins.” Pediatr Infect Dis J1996; 15:44-48.
Beeler, J. et al. “Thrombocytopenia after immunization with measles vaccines: review of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting Systerm (1990-1994).” Pediatr Infect Dis J 1996; 15:88-90.
Sensory Impairments Including Eye Disorders and Hearing Loss:

Kazarian, E.L., et al. “Optic neuritis complicating measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination.” American Journal of Ophthalmology1978; 86:544-47.
Marshall, G.S., et al. “Diffuse retinopathy following measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination.” Pediatrics1985; 76:989-991.
Brodsky, L., et al. “Sensorineural hearing loss following live measles virus vaccination.” International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology1985; 10:159-63.
Nabe-Nielsen, J., et al. “Unilateral deafness as a complication of the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccination.” British Medical Journal1988; 297:489.
Hulbert, T.V., et al. “Bilateral hearing loss after measles and rubella vaccination in an adult.” New England Journal of Medicine1991; 325:134.
Stewart, B.J.A., et al. “Reports of sensorineural deafness after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation.” Archives of Diseases of Childhood 1993; 69:153-54.
Immune System Damage, other than Autism:

Hirsch, R.L., et al. “Measles virus vaccination of measles seropositive individuals suppresses lymphocyte proliferation and chemotactic factor production.” Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology1981; 21:341-50.
Nicholson, J.K.A., et al. “The effect of measles-rubella vaccination on lymphocyte populations and subpopulations in HIV-infected and healthy individuals.” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 1992; 5:528-537.
Bowel Disease:

Thompson, N.P., Wakefield, A.J, et al. “Is measles vaccination a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease?” Lancet1995; 345:1071-1074.
Barton, J.R., et al. “Incidence of inflammatory bowel disease in Scottish children between 1968 and 1983: marginal fall in ulcerative colitis; three-fold rise in Crohn’s disease.” Gut1989; 30:618-622.
Whelan, G. “Epidemiology of inflammatory bowel disease.” Med Clin N Am1990; 74:1-12.
Ekbom, A., et al. “Perinatal measles infection and subsequent Crohn’s disease.” Lancet1994; 334:508-510.
Miyamoto, H., et al. “Detection of immunoreactive antigen with monoclonal antibody to measles virus in tissue from patients with Crohn’s disease.” Journal of Gastroenterology1995; 30:28-33.
Wakefield, A.J., et al. “Evidence of persistent measles virus infection in Crohn’s disease.” Journal of Medical Virology1993; 39:345-53.
Wakefield, A.J., et al. “Crohn’s disease: pathogenesis and persistent measles virus infection.” Gastroenterology1995; 108:911-916.
Lewin, J., et al. “Confirmation of persistent measles virus infection of intestinal tissue by immunogold electron microscopy.” Gut 1995; 36:564-69.
Epidemiologic characteristics of 500 patients with inflammatory bowel disease in Iran studied from 2004 through 2007.
Severe Allergic Reaction:

Aukrust, L., et al. “Severe hypersensitivity or intolerance reactions to measles vaccine in six children: clinical and immunological studies.” Allergy1980; 35(7):581-87.
McEwen, J. “Early-onset reaction after measles vaccination: further Australian reports.” Medical Journal of Australia1983; 2:503-505.
Koch, J., et al. “Adverse events temporally associated with immunizing agents�1987 report.” Canada Diseases Weekly Report1989; 15:151-58.
Kelso, J.M., et al. “Anaphylaxis to measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine mediated by IgE to gelatin.” J Allergy Clin Immunol1993; 91:867-72.
Sakaguchi, M., et al. “IgE antibody to gelatin in children with immediate-type reactions to measles and mumps vaccines.” J Allergy Clin Immunol 1995; 96:563-65.
Sakaguch, M., Inouye, S. “Systemic allergic reactions to gelatin in vaccines included as a stabilizer.” Jpn Jnl Infectious Diseases 2000; 53(5): 189-95.
Atypical Measles from MMR Vaccination:

Cherry, J.D. “The ‘new’ epidemiology of measles and rubella.” Hospital Practice(July 1980), pp. 53-54.
Fulginiti, V.A., et al. “Altered reactivity to measles virus; atypical measles in children previously immunized with inactivated measles virus vaccines.” Journal of the American Medical Association1967; 202:1075.
Martin, D.B., et al. “Atypical measles in adolescents and young adults.” Annals of Internal Medicine1979; 90:877.
Nichols, E.M. “Atypical measles: a continuing problem.” American Journal of Public Health1979; 69(2):160-62.
Scott, T.F., et al. “Reactions to live-measles-virus vaccine in children previously inoculated with killed-virus vaccine.” New England Journal of Medicine1967; 277(5):248-251.
Cherry, J.D., et al. “Atypical measles in children previously immunized with attenuated measles virus vaccines.” Pediatrics1972; 50(5).
St. Geme, J.W., et al. “Exaggerated natural measles following attenuated virus immunization.” Pediatrics 1976; 57:148-150.
Thank-you to Think-Twice, Global Vaccine Institute for compiling much of the information above.

Of course, if you don’t want to weed through all of the above studies to find out if the MMR vaccine can cause long-term, serious, chronic conditions, you could just ask the mother of this child:

The last part of of the statement that needs to be addressed does not appear to be from Dr. Christenson; rather, it appears to come from the author of the USA Today article. It is the assertion that MMR Vaccine is “usually needed” for school attendance.

It’s not… unless you happen to live in West Virginia or Mississippi.

To find out about vaccine exemptions in your state, please click this link.

12 thoughts on “The Risks and Health Complications Related to the MMR Vaccine

  1. i cant decide if i should get the whooping cough for my 8week old. i am avoiding the mmr vaccine but is the whooping vaccine just as bad? it is so easy to catch i am worried any info will be appreciated

    1. Thank you for the comment! I’ll post some links here for you to review, along with commentary on the Pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccine.

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