By DRS. DAVID NIESEL AND NORBERT HERZOG

Vaccines are so successful, they have almost eradicated some of the diseases that they prevent, such as polio. The MMR vaccine provides effective protection against the childhood diseases mumps, measles and rubella, to the point that very few cases were seen in the United States. Unfortunately, because some parents are refusing this vaccination for their children, these dangerous diseases are undergoing a resurgence.

In the 1990s, an unsubstantiated study that has since been retracted linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have rejected these claims and no other study has conclusively found a link between the vaccine and autism. Today the scientific community continues to believe that the benefits far exceed the risks of this vaccine. While there are some side effects of the vaccine, most of these are minor and they occur very infrequently. On the other hand, measles can cause a high fever, upper respiratory congestion and body rash. If the measles enters the lungs it can lead to pneumonia and if it infects the brain it can cause encephalitis, both life-threatening conditions.

Yet there is a strong public sentiment in support of the autism link despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. In an ironic twist, a recent study shows evidence that the MMR vaccine may actually protect children from other life-threatening illnesses as well.

When someone contracts a bacterial or viral disease, cells in different parts of the body, such as the immune system, become infected. When the infection is over, some of these cells are retained as memory cells and provide long-term protection against the microbe. When a person is re-exposed to the microbe, these memory cells stop and destroy the invading microbe before the disease can become established. But a measles infection destroys these memory cells that protect us against infections we have recovered from, making us susceptible to these infections again.

In a recent study, biomedical scientists used extensive medical record data mining to confirm that children who had been infected with measles were more susceptible to other childhood diseases and even death. Results showed that children remained vulnerable to these other diseases for up to two and a half years after recovering from measles. As a control, they looked to see if children recovering from another childhood disease, whooping cough, were more susceptible to other infections as well, but they were not.

Overall, results of this big data study demonstrate that there is a true benefit from the measles vaccine on top of just protecting a child from measles. Using infection incidence reports from before measles vaccination was widely applied in Europe, it was estimated that almost one-half of childhood deaths from other diseases came as a result of the lingering effects of measles infection. In more recent studies in Africa, it was clearly shown that most child deaths from other diseases came within two years of measles infection.

In contrast to the negative image that some have used to falsely blame this childhood vaccine as a cause of autism, the broad protection offered by the MMR vaccine is another reason to immunize your children. Consult your pediatrician for their recommendation on your child’s immunizations.

Medical Discovery News is a weekly radio and print broadcast highlighting medical and scientific breakthroughs hosted by professor emeritus Norbert Herzog and professor David Niesel, biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.