By Andy Zou
The debate over two vaccines, measles and flu, continues.
Although there has been lingering controversy — one making national headlines: The question of whether parents should refuse vaccinations to kids.
Another concern about vaccination reflects on the intensity of the ever-changing flu strain and how fast it has mutated this season — but science has argued that it is still better to be immunized than not to be immunized.
After a measles outbreak at Disneyland in December, more than 102 cases have since been reported.
Although measles were declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, outside tourists transmit the airborne disease, leading to sporadic outbreaks, including this year’s.
Lawmakers have long supported vaccination. However, some lawmakers caused controversy when they suggested that vaccines may cause serious side effects, which raised questions on whether they were anti-vaccine.
As it pertains to measles, however, these reports lack credibility. In fact, two measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations are about 97 percent effective.
Fourteen scientific studies have concluded that there is no correlation between measles vaccines and autism.
“Vaccines are extremely safe,” concluded Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia Paul Offit.
Top experts have said that not vaccinating is a bad tradeoff.
Director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Anne Schuchat acknowledged that “measles is literally a plane ride away. When it gets into communities, like the United States now, in certain pockets where a lot of people are not immunized, it has a chance to spread.”
The measles outbreak and controversies surrounding politicians sending mixed messages that contrast science have come at a time where breakthroughs in medical technology have led to the increasing effectiveness of vaccines and the ability to mass-produce them.
But, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of vaccines based on the fact that the measles outbreak has coincided with a particularly nasty flu season this year.
This season’s flu vaccine had only been 23 percent effective for the general population, and only 12 percent for seniors, against the most common viral strain of the flu this year, H3N2.
This is because experts choose viral strains every February for manufacturers to include in next season’s flu vaccine.
The mismatch this year was greater than usual, limiting the effectiveness of the vaccine, because the H3N2 viral strain had begun to mutate earlier. It had become too late to change course on the entire production process by the time the CDC noticed the mutating strain in late March.
The fact that the flu vaccine has underperformed four times in the last two decades has raised concerns and controversy in the political arena that the advances in technology are still not fast enough for manufacturers to keep pace with the constantly mutating flu strains, and that more improvements are needed.
It prompted one lawmaker, Rep. David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, to describe the process as “archaic.”
The low efficacy of the flu vaccine has raised questions about whether people should get vaccinated against the flu, and, generally, whether people should refuse vaccines altogether.
According to the CDC, a vaccine that is only 10 percent effective could prevent as many as 13,000 hospitalizations and limit the frequency of transmission.
The vaccine, after all, is still able to prevent against multiple strains of flu and alleviate the intensity of symptoms.
According to Dr. Schuchat, “A highly effective vaccine with very few doses available may not be as good as a moderate- to low-efficacy vaccine and a lot of doses available.”
As shown by the recent measles outbreak, achieving herd immunity — where a majority of the population is vaccinated — is important, especially for the flu, as the hassle of getting yearly flu shots has led to lower immunization rates.
While both the flu and measles outbreaks have stimulated concerns and controversy regarding vaccines, science has shown that the safety of vaccines should not be doubted.
Even when the efficacy of a vaccine is less than ideal, as in the case of the flu vaccine this season, getting immunized is still better than not getting immunized and can still bring about a range of benefits both to the individual and the general public.