Does adding a new ingredient to a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine increase the risk of brain damage?

WASHINGTON — For decades, most children in the United States have received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Unfortunately, a “newly developed flake” of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine used in…

Does adding a new ingredient to a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine increase the risk of brain damage?

WASHINGTON — For decades, most children in the United States have received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Unfortunately, a “newly developed flake” of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine used in the country may leave children more vulnerable to brain damage, and many private organizations and medical associations disagree with that health risk assessment.

So what’s the problem? Let’s begin with the logic: In recent years, researchers have noticed that the MMR vaccine cuts the risk of the neurological disease cerebral palsy in half, with no apparent effect on other children. It’s not clear, however, if other childhood illnesses, including pertussis (aka whooping cough), would increase in likelihood if a child gets autism or other intellectual disorders because of a vaccine failure.

In the paper in the journal Pediatrics, the study’s author, Ondrej Slesick, speculated that the addition of a new, “sensitive to brain injury antigen” to DTP may have created some confusion in the brain in those who were vaccinated. (Mumps and tetanus, like measles, are also immune-suppressant drugs.)

Looking at data from 8,483 children, Slesick, a professor at the University of Alberta, identified 11 children who had a history of brain damage from diphtheria and tetanus, but none who had suffered any mumps or whooping cough — suggesting a broad category of children who may be at risk. (Those 11 children appear to be strikingly similar in age, sex and location to other children who suffered neurological brain injuries from certain viral diseases over the prior three decades.)

There’s also concern that a very small number of children may have already shown symptoms of a possible underlying brain damage. (That’s why Slesick’s study noted there was no evidence the MMR vaccine had caused the most serious brain injury on record.)

Other researchers have come to the same conclusion after a 2012 measles outbreak in London: “an inadequate safety assessment was made of safety of DTP vaccine.” (Two measles outbreaks in 2014 and 2016 have killed several children in the United States.)

In a 2018 study, Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, expressed concerns that the newly approved DTP vaccine “appears to strengthen the association between autism and mumps-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine … and these findings should lead to a thorough study of the possible links to autism, mumps and pertussis among children.”

In response to questions, several organizations that issued recommendations about the need for vaccines to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statements noting that “measles-mumps-rubella virus vaccine protects against infection with a robustly covered, four-shot series of vaccines.” They also said the recent paper did not indicate a new “potential link” between autism and childhood vaccines.

Copyright 2019 The Washington Post.

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