The vaccine to prevent measles is overwhelmingly safe and has no connection to autism. This is hardly news, but rather the effective conclusion reached by multiple scientific investigations over several decades.
But last week, yet another extensive work of research — one of the largest and longest-running of its kind — once again disproved any link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
In fact, the study of about 500,000 Danish children over the past decade found that kids who weren’t vaccinated were actually slightly more likely to develop autism than their immunized peers.
This matters because skepticism about the safety of vaccinations is contributing to a troubling resurgence of measles in the United States despite the disease having been eliminated about two decades ago.
At least six measles outbreaks are ongoing nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 200 cases have been confirmed so far this year in 11 states.
Of course, plenty of evidence supporting the MMR vaccine’s safety has been around for years. So while the results of the Denmark study add further confirmation to an already almost universal medical consensus, they may not sway many wary parents.
South Carolina fortunately has relatively strong laws requiring childhood vaccinations to attend public schools, but other states allow exemptions for “philosophical” reasons, which are excessively open-ended.
Some states, like Washington, are rightly attempting to make vaccine refusal more difficult in the wake of measles outbreaks. Others, like Arizona, are considering opening the doors even wider by adding new exemptions.
And on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing on vaccines and preventable diseases.
The fact that something so demonstrably safe and critical to saving lives is subject to such a heated national debate suggests that scientists, doctors and public health advocates need new approaches to communicating with parents, who are understandably interested in their children’s safety.
Indeed, better communication will be important in other public controversies surrounding issues with near-unanimous scientific consensus as well, like the link between human activities and climate change.
The consequences are potentially dire.
Measles is extremely contagious and can lead to deadly complications — at least 110,000 people died from the disease worldwide in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. And people who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons depend on community immunity to stay healthy.
In other words, getting vaccinated isn’t just a way to avoid a preventable and potentially deadly disease but also a way to help keep others safe.
The evidence to back up that conclusion was already extensive. Last week, it grew even more irrefutable. Vaccines don’t cause autism. They save lives.