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Measles vaccine co-creator explains where the fear came from, and why it is unfounded

By Carol Harbers February 05, 2015
Samuel Katz, MD

Samuel Katz, MD, is a co-creator of the measles vaccine

The Disneyland measles outbreak has drawn attention to the number of people in this country who choose not to vaccinate their children. Samuel Katz, MD, co-creator of the measles vaccine and chairman emeritus of pediatrics at Duke Children’s, remembers how the fear of the vaccine all started.

Started with single, flawed study

“There was a single, flawed study in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s involving 11 or 12 children. The conclusion of this research -- that vaccines were linked to autism -- has been proven totally false. In fact, the person responsible for the research lost his license to practice, and his research was retracted,” says Katz.

The idea gained steam in part because of a matter of timing. “Autism is usually recognized in the second year of life. This is the time children are getting vaccines, including the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella),” says Katz. But the science has proven there is no relationship between vaccines and autism.

More chemicals in food than in the measles vaccine

Billions of children in the world have been vaccinated with a very small number of modest negative effects, says Katz. Yet, the rumors persist.

Another argument from those who refuse vaccinations is that the shot introduces “unknown chemicals” into the body. That’s misleading, says Katz. “The vaccines are far more pure than what we are exposed to in daily life. There is very little other than the virus and the media it is grown in. We get far more chemicals in the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe every day.”

Measles can lead to serious, even fatal complications

The measles vaccine was licensed in March 1963 after years of work. Katz is the only surviving member of the three-person team that developed the vaccine. “Back then, 20 percent of patients with the disease ended up the hospital, and about 450 children died each year,” says Katz. Because of the vaccine, measles was eradicated in this country in 2000.

Far from a benign disease, measles can lead to serious, even fatal, complications. “It doesn’t happen often in this country, but it does happen,” says Katz. “Patients can develop pneumonia or, less commonly, encephalitis," an inflammation of the brain.

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