MMR doesn’t protect 4 per cent of children

Not in the least bit anti-vaccine, pictures of babies used as pincushions for needles are a staple of every vaccine promotion programme.
Not in the least bit anti-vaccine, pictures of babies used as pincushions for needles are a staple of every vaccine promotion programme.

MMR doesn’t protect 4 per cent of children is a short piece in the November 2013 edition of WDDTY.

WDDTY is not in the least bit anti-vaccine, so there is no problem using a picture of a glum-looking baby with half a dozen syringes sticking in it.

Do the sources support what WDDTY say?

The rubella (German measles) component of the measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine doesn’t work in a sizeable minority of children, leading researchers have discovered. It offers no protection in up to 4 per cent of children whose genetic profile nullifies the vaccine’s effectiveness.

So one part of the MMR only works in 96% of children, and there’s no evidence presented that the other two components are affected.

The headline that “MMR doesn’t work in 4% of children” is misleading: it works, but only the measles and mumps components.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have identified 27 genes that determine whether the vaccine will work. Children with the relevant genetic differences respond poorly to the vaccine as they interfere with antigen interactions and inflammatory and genetic pathways.

The fact that not everybody responds to vaccines is, of course, already well-known – this is not news, just a discussion of the factors underlying one part of non-response. The lack of complete response is one reason why herd immunity is important.

The Mayo researchers identified 25 children in a group of 738 vaccinated individuals who had a ‘low vaccine response’. If this is a typical subset, then around 4 per cent of all children may not be protected by the vaccine.

This is misleading. They are still protected, just not against rubella.

Source: PLoS One, 2013; 8: e62149, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062149, Genome-Wide Characterization of Transcriptional Patterns in High and Low Antibody Responders to Rubella Vaccination, Iana H. Haralambieva, Ann L. Oberg, Inna G. Ovsyannikova, Richard B. Kennedy, Diane E. Grill, Sumit Middha, Brian M. Bot, Vivian W. Wang, David I. Smith, Robert M. Jacobson, Gregory A. Poland

And the concluding paragraph of the Discussion:

In summary, our analysis is the first global mRNA-Seq gene expression profiling after rubella vaccination that presents evidence for unique quantitative transcriptional differences between high and low antibody responders to rubella vaccination. These transcriptional differences and the underlying mechanisms are crucial to understanding the basis of vaccine immune responses, and for development of novel and improved vaccines.

So: the researchers have found a factor that mitigates against vaccine response, and this can potentially be used to develop an improved vaccine with greater response.

The research is presented in a tone and context that undermines vaccination, and the headline is not supported by the source cited.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that MMR doesn’t protect a sizeable minority of children?

They do. But they don’t pretend that non-response to one component means your child is not protected, because that would be misleading.

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