Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. I am not a doctor. This article is not intended to be medical advice.
Last fall I wrote a post called "Why We Said No to the Measles Vaccine." In it, I explain how according to the CDC's own data, vaccinating your child with the MMR vaccine carries a higher risk of complication than catching wild measles. As a result, we are not choosing the MMR vaccine for our children at this time.
One response to the post that I heard a few times was: What about mumps? Admittedly, I wasn't terribly concerned about mumps when I wrote the first post. Really, until about a year ago, I'd never even heard of people in the US getting mumps. Several outbreaks on college campuses (and a particularly large community-wide one in Ohio), however, have brought this issue into the public spotlight, so I wanted to respond:
So, What About Mumps?
Here are some quick facts to take into consideration about Mumps:
- Most people who get mumps (especially children) recover fully with no complications.
- Once you contract wild mumps, you will have immunity for life.
- Except for the very rare chance of encephalitis (risk: 1 in 10 million infected people), mumps is not deadly.
- Common symptoms of mumps are fever, rash and swollen saliva glands. In teens and adults, mumps symptoms may also include orchitis (swelling of the testicles) or oophoritis (swelling of the ovaries).
- Your chance of death from encephalitis related to mumps is .00001% or 1 in 10 million (source)
- Your chance of hearing loss from mumps, if contracted, is .005% or about 1 in 100,000 (source)
- The CDC says the MMR vaccine is 66-95% (88% on average) effective against mumps. (source)
Risks of Mumps
The biggest argument we hear about complications from mumps is the possibility of sterility following a a case of mumps. While the CDC recognizes that this is a possibility, it is so rare that I have been unable to find data on how often this occurs. What is particularly noteworthy about this is that they have data saying your chance of death from mumps-related encephalitis is .00001% (1 in 10 million) but no data on sterility - which suggests to me that the level of rarity may be similar.
As mentioned above, other complications of mumps might include encephalitis (1 in 10 million) or hearing loss (about 1 in 100,000). Mumps, however, is not serious and while uncomfortable, you have a 99.99% chance of coming through a mumps infection totally complication-free.
Risks of the MMR Vaccine
Let me take a moment to be clear on where I am getting this data from. This is data from the CDC who is the generally recognized authority on these matters in the USA. These are the universally recognized complications from the MMR vaccine.
Some of the risks of MMR vaccine include (source)
- Mumps-like swelling of glands in cheeks or neck (happens to 2.6% of those vaccinated)
- Febrile Seizure (happens to .13% of those vaccinated)
- Temporary low platelet count which can cause a bleeding disorder (happens to .006% of those vaccinated)
- Other serious side effects including deafness, long term seizures, coma, permanent brain damage (.0002% - or 1 in 500,000 of those vaccinated)
Please note, these risks as quoted on the CDC website are per-vaccine-administered. Risk factor percentages per person are based on a recommended course of 2 doses of the vaccine. If you only complete 1 dose, you risks are reduced by half. If you need additional boosters beyond the first two doses, your risks will be higher.
Risks of MMR Vaccine vs. Wild Mumps
At the end of the day, we need to weigh the risks of a mumps against the risks of the MMR vaccine. Because mumps is a relatively complication-free disease and the vaccine is really designed to prevent you from experiencing the discomfort of mumps rather than prevent you from dying of mumps, we will also compare chances of discomfort in both situations.
Risk of Discomfort from MMR Vaccine:
5.9% (1 out of about 17 vaccinated persons)
Common discomfort from vaccine includes mumps-like symptoms such as fever, mild rash and swelling of face and neck (source)
National* Risk of Similar Discomfort from Catching Wild Mumps:
Less than 1 in 1 Million
actual number: .84 in 1 million
*This data is based on average number of mumps cases which appear in the USA each year. The winter/spring 2014 outbreak is centered in Ohio. Your chances of catching mumps if you currently live in Ohio are greater. The .84 in 1 million statistic assumes all persons who catch mumps will experience some degree of discomfort. In any given year, your risk of catching mumps is less than 1 in 1 million.
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Now here is the part that really opened my eyes:
Risk of Serious Complication from MMR Vaccine:
1 in 500,000
Risk of Serious Complication from Wild Mumps:
1 in 100 Million
(calculated by looking at 1 in 1 million risk of contracting wild mumps multiplied by the 1 in 100,000 risk of hearing loss which is the most common serious complication of mumps)
At the end of the day, your risk of even catching wild mumps is less than half of the risk assumed by getting the MMR vaccine.
In order to suffer a serious complication from mumps, you need to win the lottery twice - once to catch mumps and again to be one of the rare few to have a complication. Your chances of a serious complication from the MMR vaccine are 200 times greater than your chances of a complication from mumps.
So what does all this mean for me and my family?
Based on the mathematical risks outlined above, we believe that our children would be put at greater risk of medical complication by getting the MMR vaccine than they would be if we left them unvaccinated and at risk for catching measles or mumps. We continue to be confident that leaving the MMR vaccine off of our family's personalized vaccine schedule is still in the best interest of our children.
For further reading, please also see:
- Why We Said "No" to the Measles Vaccine
- Eight Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating Your Child
- The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child by Dr. Robert Sears
Carissa used to think that people who didn't vaccinate their kids or who ate organic food were elitist hippies. After the birth of her son in 2010, she and her husband used their research backgrounds to learn more about ways in improve and maintain health in children and as a result chose to selectively vaccinate their son, moved to an organic whole foods diet and stopped using plastic in their kitchen. To learn more about some of the changes they made on their journey toward better health, check out her posts on health & beauty.