The Irish Times view on vaccination: a vital protection
Reported mumps cases have risen in the Republic this year
In the Republic, the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre has just reported a large rise in the number of mumps cases notified to it in the first six weeks of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
While there are many candidates for the most important medical breakthrough of all time, it is generally accepted that immunisation, along with improved sanitation, has improved global health more than any other historical development.
However, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of mass vaccination against the most common infectious diseases, the intervention is opposed by a small but vocal minority of anti-vaccination activists.
The success of these anti-vaccine campaigns is clear. Yet, in the Republic, the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre has just reported a large rise in the number of mumps cases notified to it in the first six weeks of 2019. Most cases are in teenagers and young adults. So far in 2019, 278 mumps cases have been notified compared to 43 for the same time period in 2018. Some 15 people have been hospitalised to date, while nine separate outbreaks of the infectious disease occurred in universities, schools and the community.
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine immunisation rates have still not recovered following now discredited research by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 linking the vaccine with bowel disease and autism. Indeed there is a direct chronological link between the current frequency of Irish mumps cases in the 15–20 year age group and Wakefield’s fraudulent research.
According to the World Health Organisation, measles killed 72 people in Europe in 2018. Any suggestion that measles is a mild illness is contradicted by WHO figures showing that almost two-thirds of these measles cases were hospitalised. The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade.
The best protection against mumps and measles is to be fully vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine. And while WHO Europe reported its highest ever coverage for the second dose of this vaccine, at 90 per cent, it still falls short of the 95 per cent coverage needed to ensure herd immunity. We must continue to resource and advocate for this most valuable medical advance.