Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Topic: Measles Vaccine Controversy, Ethical Issues Involved
Presenters: Robert L. Brown, MD, Theodore Putnam, MD.
Moderator: Neil Funnell.
Robert Brown,MD, Infectious disease specialist, and Theodore Putnam, MD, CM, pediatrician, both now living on Hilton Head Island.
Neil opened our discussion and explained that the subject of the day is not about medicine but about the ethical trade- offs demanded in the debate over vaccinations. Although vaccinations are widely promoted and accepted, critics charge that vaccines in some cases consist of “chemical cocktails. One question is whether there is a “greater good” that overrides the principle of individual decision-making. Another is the issue of determining an appropriate advocate for a child: parents or the state? A recent outbreak of measles in several states makes the questions timely.
Dr. Brown pointed out that there is “no treatment for measles,” that it has to run its course. Measles can lead to pneumonia, meningitis and serious ear infections.
It also has led to deaths. He said his career involved caring for adults with infectious diseases rather than children and that in his experience some infectious diseases cause “horrible misery” and require much use of available resources.
He said his preference is for prevention rather than attempts at treatment of all childhood diseases. He also noted that in his opinion, senior citizens should receive both Pneumonia and Shingles vaccines, unless contraindicated.
Dr. Putnam showed a graph depicting the dramatic drop in the number of measles cases in the United States after the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963.
“In the United States there were 500 deaths from measles in the year before children began to be vaccinated. In 2013, in contrast, there were only 2,000 measles cases worldwide,” he said. “Some of the early vaccines were dirty,” he added, “with some noxious ingredients.” However, they were significantly cleaned up and so became quite safe. There are a lot of myths in the population about vaccines,” he said. After publication in 1998 in a respected British medical journal of a basically false article linking vaccines to mental health problems in children, thousands did not get vaccinated.
At one time in Dr. Putnam’s practice, he refused to take care of children whose parents refused to have them vaccinated. He later came to believe that parents should have the right to decide.
The Amish, for example, refuse vaccinations for religious reasons. In addition, children with suppressed immune systems, for whatever reason, should not be vaccinated.
One participant noted that quarantines had been put in place even more recently for control of Ebola Virus.
Asked if the risks of catching measles resided only with the unvaccinated, Dr. Putnam said that is not the case. He said that one shot of the vaccination is only 95% effective;
the recommended dosage now of two shots is 99% effective. So, a small percentage of vaccinated children are vulnerable, and many adults, even if vaccinated as children,
probably got only one shot and so are also quite vulnerable.
Asked if formaldehyde used as a preservative in vaccines is harmful, the physicians said it is used in such small amounts that it is not.