Highlights — 20 February 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Epidemiologist defends vaccination amid charges that vaccines don’t always work and actually may cause irreversible harm or even death

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 18, 2015–The United States, including states like California to which Belizeans travel often, is currently experiencing an outbreak of measles, a rash associated with fever which mostly affects children, reigniting calls from some factions for the more liberals states in the US to tighten laws that would force more people to vaccinate their children.

The Belize government provides cash incentives for families under the Building Opportunities for Our Social Transformation initiative (BOOST) program based on whether children are immunized and attending school; and also for pregnant mothers who seek early prenatal care.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, head of the Epidemiology Unit in the Belize Ministry of Health, said that they have been keeping abreast of the developments in the US, and he noted that there have been reports of persons contracting measles in neighboring Mexico and Canada, connected with the index case in the US. The US outbreak is said to have originated in a Disney theme park, which was visited by some of the patients before they were diagnosed with measles.

Belize has not reported a case of measles since 1991, and Manzanero said that the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) and booster shots have helped to keep Belize, like the rest of the Caribbean, measles-free for over two decades.

Manzanero said that health officials in Belize are monitoring those measles cases in the US, and surveillance teams are ramping up efforts and alerting people that they should be on the alert and start getting their relatives and children vaccinated if they have not yet been vaccinated.

Manzanero told Amandala that Belize’s vaccination rate ranges from 95-98%. The World Health Organization’s data bank reports an MMR immunization rate of 99% for Belize, higher than the 91% rate reported for the US.

Of note, though, is that vaccination does not fully guarantee that a person will never contract the disease. Manzanero said that the data last provided to the Ministry of Health indicated that about 51% of those who had contracted measles in the US had never been vaccinated.

Our newspaper visited the website of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for information, and found a February 13, 2015 report on the ongoing measles outbreak, which said that among the 110 California patients, 49 (45%) were unvaccinated; five (5%) had 1 dose of measles-containing vaccine, seven (6%) had 2 doses, one (1%) had 3 doses, 47 (43%) had an unknown or undocumented vaccination status, and one (1%) had immunoglobulin G seropositivity, which indicates prior vaccination or measles infection at an undetermined time.

Twelve of those patients with measles who had not been vaccinated were actually too young to be vaccinated, but 28 did not vaccinate because of personal beliefs.

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) in the US says that, “Like prescription drugs, vaccines are pharmaceutical products that carry two risks: a risk the product will not work and a risk the product will cause harm.”

The statistics quoted above indicate that for some persons who have been vaccinated, the injection has not worked. The 1987 measles outbreak in Corpus Cristi, Texas, occurred in a vaccinated population. NVIC added that “every vaccine recommended today by government health officials and medical trade associations carries a risk for complications, such as brain inflammation, which can lead to chronic brain and immune system damage or death.”

Manzanero said, though, that there have been no reports of people suffering major adverse effects in Belize – only mild localized reactions to vaccinations.

According to an article carried in 1987 by the New England Journal of Medicine, the Texas outbreak of measles occurred at a Texas school even though vaccination requirements for school attendance had been thoroughly enforced.

A study was done on serum samples from 1806 students at two secondary schools and only 4.1 percent of these students (74 of 1806) lacked a detectable antibody to measles, and more than 99 percent had records of vaccination with the live measles vaccine, the report said. This means that some persons who received the vaccine never developed antibodies and so could still contract measles. It noted that 14 of 74 seronegative students, all of whom had been vaccinated, contracted measles.

In a 1988 issue of its measles report, the CDC published data which documented 3,655 cases of measles in 1987, and about 52% of those who got sick had been vaccinated.

Aside from concerns that vaccinations do not fully protect individuals from developing a disease, there are those who oppose the vaccines on the basis that they could harm patients, and in some cases, even cause death.

Earlier this year, a health worker in the US died from complications due to the flu. She had actually received a prior flu shot, but authorities claimed the shot did not protect her because it did not cover the strain of the flu virus circulating this year.

The fear of harm from vaccines has resurfaced with the new campaign to have preteen and teen girls, and in some quarters even boys, vaccinated against certain strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus which is said to cause cervical cancer as well as some oral and anal cancers.

In New Zealand, multiple deaths have been reported in girls who took the shots, and their parents have said that the girls died after taking the vaccine. However, conclusive evidence has been hard to come by, and in one case, the girl’s autopsy indicated that she had died from an overdose of antihistamine; although her family had blamed the vaccine, which she had received only hours before she suddenly collapsed and died at home. Another HPV patient was found dead in her bed 6 months after she received the third round of shots, which the family said caused major deterioration in her health, as well as recurrent HPV warts.

This week, Amandala received a correspondence from a concerned member of the public who says that he has observed a substantial number of cases of autism in Belize, where he notes the immunization rate is a very high 90-odd percent.

Official data confirms that in the US, the number of cases of autism has skyrocketed, having increased exponentially from 1 in 10,000 children three and a half decades ago to 1 in about 68 children today, with the incidences in boys being far higher. Some observe that this rapid escalation has coincided with more aggressive immunization MMR campaigns since the 1980s.

When we shared these views with Manzanero, he told us that he is not aware of reports of people having adverse reactions in Belize, and while there is some evidence that suggests an autism link to the vaccine, the science, he said, is overwhelmingly in favor of its benefits in preventing the spread of measles versus any potential autism anybody can or will have. Manzanero said that the benefits have to be weighed against any potential occurrence of autism in a patient.

Speaking as a clinician, he said, it is “not just autism that can result from that,” as, he notes that there can be other side effects from vaccine shots, or persons could develop the disease they are being vaccinated against itself. However, he said, the science in favor of vaccination is much more substantial than the science against it, and the anti-vaccine persons can get very radical and very right wing.

Recently, Manzanero has been sharing posts on the question of vaccines on his Facebook page. He told us that if MMR crops up in Belize, their team will kick into a mode of heightened surveillance, to try to contain the spread.

He noted that there is currently an outbreak of chicken pox, and an undiagnosed skin rash has been reported among students in Orange Walk. That is currently being investigated by a health team.

Manzanero notes that in Belize, vaccinations are still voluntary; and even if it were to be made mandatory by law, he is not so sure if it would be enforceable in the current context of people talking about human rights. He does concede that schools generally require students to be vaccinated for attendance.

As for the controversial HPV vaccines, Manzanero said that the Belize Ministry of Health team is still discussing the matter, and the vaccination program is not yet being implemented by the Ministry of Health. He said that an HPV campaign may be frowned upon by the churches, who may believe that they shouldn’t be vaccinating girls, because it means giving people a “free card” to have liberal sex. The discussion also involves the possible health risks associated with the HPV vaccine, a three-shot regime which would be proposed for girls as young as 8 years of age.

After the death of one young lady in New Zealand, foreign HPV DNA was detected in her system at the autopsy. The pathologist said that it was not normal for it to have still been in her system and that the presence of the foreign DNA could have caused lethal shock. A Canadian neuroscientist and a US pathologist had noted that heavy aluminum staining was on the patient’s brain tissue and this could have acted as a “trojan horse,” bringing the human papillomavirus, or HPV, into her brain. However, it has been reported in the international press that other medical experts had told the inquest that the symptoms the teen suffered were the result of a congenital heart problem.

Manzanero told us that apart from adverse cases reported in New Zealand, where he said the vaccine may be off the market for the time being, he has not heard of any such reports.

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