Paediatric / children’s health

Vaccines need a shot in the arm
ABOVE: Dr John McGrath in the laboratory RIGHT: Dr McGrath with Emma rotavirus 6 months BY PRISCILLA CRIGHTON

Nurses and midwives are urged to help educate parents on the uptake of childhood vaccinations amid concerns of complacency and fear of vaccines. According to a national communicable diseases report, Australia had 10 reported cases of measles in 2005. Recent data shows Australia has had 43 cases in the first two months of 2011. This number is tipped to rise considerably by the end of the year according to Dr John McGrath, a Queensland immunologist based at CQUniversity. He believes the increase in the number of cases of measles could be attributed to people's general complacency and a fear of vaccines. “Vaccines have led to the virtual eradication of some terrible infectious diseases including polio, smallpox, tetanus, diptheria and whooping cough, and have decimated rates of others like meningitis and pneumonia in vaccinated populations. “But with this enormous success, people are becoming complacent with vaccinations and now we are seeing some diseases making a comeback.”
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McGrath believes there has been immense damage to the reputation of vaccines, particularly to the MMR vaccine. In 1998, highly respected British medical journal, the Lancet, published a study that linked the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine to regressive autism. Over the next 12 years the report and its author Dr Andrew Wakefield became a thorn in the side of immunologists around the world who failed to replicate the findings, and plagued the minds of millions of parents who vaccinated their children in good faith and whose children later developed autism. (In 2005, there were almost 12,000 children aged 6-12 years known to Centrelink as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder.) In January the Wakefield report was denounced as fraudulent after investigations by Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer uncovered that the data used in the study was falsified. Neither the research records nor parental recollection matched the published Lancet study. McGrath said it appears that Wakefield used the fraudulent study to aid a legal claim against the MMR vaccine manufacturers. “It

Paediatric / children’s health
A NUMBER OF REPORTS THAT CHILDREN WERE DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM SHORTLY AFTER BEING VACCINATED WITH MMR ONLY FUELLED ANTI-VACCINE CAMPAIGNS.
timing was purely coincidental. MMR is given during the second year of life, and according to Autism Spectrum Australia’s head researcher Dr Trevor Clark, this is often the time when autism first manifests. “Autism often appears in children from the age of two years but can also be diagnosed as early as 12 months.” Even before the retraction of the Lancet report, researchers like Clark, had dismissed the link between the vaccine and autism. “There has been a huge increase in autism research in the past decade however the Lancet report had little to do with this. Initially there was research into the link, but autism research has really focused on genetics.” Although cases of childhood illnesses such as measles remain low, immunologists such as McGrath are concerned about the impact of the drop in immunisation rates. Since the introduction of the MMR vaccine, cases of measles, mumps and rubella have all but been eradicated in western societies. In 1941 there were more than 890,000 cases of measles in the US and by 1997 this had been reduced to 135 cases. Mumps dropped from over 150,000 cases to 612, while rubella dropped from over 57,000 to 161. Similar rates were found in Australia. Queensland Health was quick to respond to one of the latest cases of measles where two children contracted the infection overseas and later presented with the condition in Brisbane. Senior director of the Communicable Diseases Branch, Dr Christine Selvey urged residents in Brisbane to ensure they had been vaccinated for the illness. The best way to be protected from some of the world's most debilitating and deadly diseases is to keep immunisations up to date, says McGrath. The Australian Government offers the national immunisation program, funding free vaccinations and administering the Australian childhood immunisation register.
DR JOHN MCGRATH IS A CHIEF IMMUNOLOGIST WITH CQUNIVERSITY'S CAPRICORNIA CENTRE FOR MUCOSAL IMMUNOLOGY. PRISCILLA CRIGHTON IS COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST AT CQUNIVERSITY.

NURSES AND MIDWIVES ARE URGED TO HELP EDUCATE PARENTS ON THE UPTAKE OF CHILDHOOD VACCINATIONS AMID CONCERNS OF COMPLACENCY AND FEAR OF VACCINES.

has been reported that two years before the paper was published Wakefield was hired by a solicitor to help launch a speculative lawsuit against drug companies that manufactured the MMR vaccine. He was paid behind the scenes to find a new syndrome of bowel and brain disease caused by the vaccine. Alarm bells should have gone off when they were making the claims even before any of the 12 children identified in the report had been studied.” Numerous studies in the United States, Great Britain and Denmark have discounted or confirmed there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism says McGrath. “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have received measles vaccines without developing behavioural problems since the mid 1960s. When Japan switched from the combination MMR to a single measles vaccine there was no reduction in autism rates.” Despite the huge amount of evidence that contradicted Wakefield’s claims, the study remained in the public domain for about 12 years. McGrath says since the study has been published parents have questioned the safety of vaccines and anti-vaccine groups have emerged, some radically targeting new parents via online websites. “It was really sad that the study led to parents having a distrust of vaccines and how effective they are as a health tool to prevent diseases in children.” A number of reports that children were diagnosed with autism shortly after being vaccinated with MMR only fuelled anti-vaccine campaigns. However, McGrath believes the

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