The Marvelous, Magical, Mysterious World of the Measles Vaccine
That medicinal drugs have side effects is common knowledge; often the recitation of side effects is longer than the the list of benefits. Sometimes, when hearing the side effects, one cannot but wonder why anyone would even consider taking the drug. For example, there is a sleeping pill that can cause depression and has been known to lead to suicide or the erectile dysfunction tablet that can result in a heart attack. Occasionally there is an unexpected and beneficial side effect - such is the case with the measles vaccine.
The earliest mention of measles dates to 900 C.E. The impact of a measles outbreak can be devastating. Measles epidemics decimated the Native American population, the native population of Hawaii and many historians believe it destroyed the Aztec Empire. (At one time, scientists believed measles was the root cause of cancer.)
Measles is extremely contagious. 90% of the people who come in contact with the virus will become infected. 30% will suffer complications and 5% will perish. Strangely, it is not the disease itself that kills; it is a side effect of the viral infection.
Scientists noted that after the introduction of the measles vaccine in the U.S., there was a significant decline in the appearance of other diseases. When examining 40 years worth of collected statistics, they discovered that this same phenomenon was present in Canada, England, the rest of Europe and then every country where the vaccine had been introduced. Michael Mina (Princeton and Emory University) stated: “In some developing countries...the reduction has been up to 80%. So it is really a mystery, why do children stop dying, at such high rates, following the introduction of the measles vaccine?”
A recently published article in Science suggests that they may have found the answer and it is unusual. As children grow, their immune system develops. A child that contracts chickenpox will develop an immunity to the disease. However, one of the effects of measles is that it suppresses the immune system and ‘erases immune protection to other diseases’. Effectually it creates an “immune amnesia”. A child that contracted chickenpox and developed the immunity, will be susceptible to the disease a second time if he or she has contracted measles.
The measles vaccine prevents this “immune amnesia” from occurring for two to three years allowing the immune system to continue to develop and protect the child from other diseases. Effectually the vaccine acts as a shield, bolstered by the very immune system the virus is attempting to infect, it permits the immune system to continue providing protection from other diseases not related to measles.