Friday, September 13, 2013

Why We Said NO to the Measles Vaccine

Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. I am not a doctor. This article is not intended to be medical advice. 

PLEASE NOTE: The statistics and risks in this post were updated on April 16, 2014 to more accurately reflect the risks of the MMR vaccine when taking the CDC-prescribed two dose course. If you only receive one dose of the vaccine, your risks are less. If you require a booster beyond your first two doses, your risks of complication will be higher. I also updated the rate of infection of wild measles to reflect data available in 2014, which was not available when the post was first written in September 2013.

This morning, CNN ran a news story: U.S. measles cases in 2013 may be most in 17 years. Even though the outbreak was sparked by someone from Indonesia bringing measles to Texas, CNN's conclusion is still this: Unvaccinated children are bringing measles back from extinction and are a threat to us all. Smart parents get their kids vaccinated.


Now, before we get started, let me make something clear: I believe it is a parents fundamental right to make their own health choices for their kids. Which also means if you think it is best to vaccinate your child for measles, I still want to be your friend. In fact, I'm mostly sure my best friend is going to vaccinate her child for measles. I am not here to judge you. Truly.

My Background

I want to make clear that I do not have a medical background. I am a mom. And I'm not just a mom. I'm a skeptical mom. My husband and I both have strong research backgrounds. If you're going to start making assertions about something that goes beyond opinion, you better be able to back it up if you want us on your side. I'm also the granddaughter of two highly regarded scientists (they were chemists and rocket scientists. literally). Science and medical facts get extra scrutiny. All that to say: "fluffy" science does not fly here. None of the information below is from a pseudo science or conspiracy theory website.

Measles by the Numbers

I am only going to talk about measles in the United States. I live in the United States and this article is about why my family is choosing not to vaccinate for measles. These are the numbers I will base my math on for the rest of the article. If you live anywhere other than the USA (except maybe Canada, which I would bet has similar numbers), these numbers will not apply to you.

How many people get measles: According to the CDC, on average less than 100 people get measles in the USA each year(source). In 2013, 189 cases were reported. The worst outbreak in the last 20 years was in 1996 when 500 cases were reported.

Measles complications: About 30% of people who get measles will get pneumonia, an ear infection, or diarrhea. For the most part these things are treatable. Sadly, though, 1 in every 1000 people who gets measles will get encephalitis - which can lead to convulsions, permanent deafness or severe mental disability. Between 1 and 2 children out of every 1000 infected will die. (source)

MMR Vaccination: The MMR vaccination is designed to prevent Measles, Mumps and Rubella. As few as 1 in 6 people will have some kind of reaction to the MMR vaccine. These reactions are usually minor and include things like fever, rash and swollen glands. 1 in 500,000 recipients will experience a severe reaction including deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness or permanent brain damage. I suspect this number may be higher but only 1 in 500,000 were able to be definitively linked to the vaccine. (source)

Wild Measles vs. MMR Vaccine

Of course, what everyone wants to know is: Which is the lower risk option?

Risks of MMR vaccine: We will go with the CDC's conservative estimate that 1 in 1 million doses of the MMR vaccine cause a severe reaction including deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness or permanent brain damage (so if you receive the recommended 2 dose course, your risk is 1 in 500,000). Even though 20% of the people who contract measles have been vaccinated, and therefore assume some of wild measles risks as well, for the sake of simplicity we'll assume the only risk vaccinated children face are from the vaccine itself.

Risks of Wild Measles to my child: Unlike the vaccine which presents a two time risk to the recipient, if you choose not to vaccinate, you put your child at risk every year. Even though the CDC says that 100 people get measles on average every year, let's use 200 as an average number of people infected in order to account for some years with much higher outbreaks as well as the climbing rate of children who are unvaccinated.

During the first 18 years of a child's life, 3600 people in the USA will get measles (18 years x 200 a year). Statistically, 6 of those will have severe complications. The 2010 census determined there are 74,181,467 children in the USA. This makes my unvaccinated child's risk of complication 6 out of 74,181,467 or 1 in 12.4 million.

Complications from

MMR vaccine vs. Wild measles
1 in 500,000        vs     1 in 12.4 million

Our Conclusion
So what does that mean for me? 

At the end of the day, it seems  that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of letting my kid go without a measles vaccine. Of course, some people might say that makes me a biological terrorist but I can live with that easier than I could live with myself if my kid were the unlucky one in 500,000 to have a severe allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine. 

Remember, this is my conclusion about how these stats apply to my family living in Oregon. If I lived in Texas where many of this year's measles cases are popping up and especially if I attended the church that seems to be the epicenter of the Texas outbreak, I might come to a different conclusion. If I lived in Lebanon where the incidence of measles is 587 times higher per capita than the USA(source) I'd certainly reconsider it.

I hope some of this information and how we came to our personal vaccine conclusion informs this debate a bit more. 

For further reading, please also see: Eight Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating Your Child

About the Author: 
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.

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  1. Great article! Lots of facts... I don't vaccinate b/c of my oldest reactions to vaccines was heartbreaking. I used to cry before and after her vaccines... she got violently sick. projectile vomiting and diarrhea. I never felt good about them. With my youngest. No way. I watched my nephew who was way above average in growth and milestones who could kick a soccer ball at age 18 mos... get his MMR and slowly within a few weeks wasn't able to walk,talk or look his mom in the eyes. He was diagnosed with Autism at age 2. He is now 11 years old... So, mine was based on personal experience. I'm so glad that many people are continuing to speak out about it... Thanks for sharing! Find out more about me

  2. Okay, but your child is going to live (I hope) a lot longer than 12 years. So how does your math hold up assuming he lives to 75, and that measles cases continue to recur in similar numbers every year? And remembering that measles is not the only preventable disease he's at risk for (even if you did all the vaccines except MMR, that still means he's at risk for measles, mumps, AND rubella, so you need to add in the numbers for those other diseases too)? And remembering that many of these "childhood" diseases are more severe when contracted as an adult, so the risk to your 50-year-old son if he contracts measles in 2060 or so might be considered larger than the risk if he gets them at 12?

    I think if you add up everything you're leaving out, the odds will start to look less and less good, even if you stay in Oregon and make sure to avoid anyone who's from or has travelled to Texas.

    And is it not also rather selfish to choose not to vaccinate your kid but instead to reply on the herd immunity created by those of us who DO vaccinate? Because the only reason the measles rate here is as low as it is is that most of us DO vaccinate. It's not like the virus has gone extinct or anything. It is simply held at bay by the widespread immunity conferred by vaccines. Which will, you know, stop working if enough people like you decide to opt out of this public health initiative.

    1. The furthest I'm willing to go down this road is 18 years (odds of measles complications are 1 in 5.5 million with rounded up worse case numbers...1 in 21.2 million if I use the CDC numbers). After 18 years, my son is capable of choosing vaccines for himself so I'm not going to accept responsibility for his health at 50.

      Herd immunity coming from measles vaccines is a myth. Measles was already in sharp decline when the vaccine was introduced for wide spread use. Further, the term "herd immunity" was coined as researchers studied the effect of wild measles on a population. Catching wild measles as children is what created the original herd immunity. Dr Levy of John Hopkins University had even said he thinks if we continue insisting on mass vaccination that we will become more at risk for measles as a population because the "immunity" derived from vaccines is shorter term and less effective than actually catching measles, putting large groups of vaccinated people at risk for catching the disease as they get older.

    2. Do you have a source/ link for Dr Levy of John Hopkins University? I vaccinate slowly. My sister is married to a pediatrician. Another sister doesn't vaccinate her little ones at all. So I'm exposed to all perspectives/ viewpoints. It is true that if an outbreak happens near you, you could always vaccinate then. When there was an outbreak in my sister's children's school, she chose to vaccinate her older kids so they wouldn't have to miss weeks of school (unvaccinated kids are sometimes required to stay home when there is an outbreak to stop it from spreading). I don't like the risks of vaccines and I don't like the risks of not vaccinating, so I just try to take a middle road and vaccinate in a way that I hope minimizing my children's risks of adverse effects. I live in CA and there are so many immigrants and so much int'l travel that I do worry more than some people might about exposure. I think parents have the right to make the decision, but I think we have to consider how our choices affect others as well. There are vulnerable populations (babies under 2 months, people with compromised immune systems) who CANNOT vaccinate. It would be very difficult for me to feel that I had been able to prevent a vulnerable person from getting sick but chose not to to protect my child. I do think it's good parents are now questioning their doctors, and I hope we get safer and better vaccinations -- and perhaps a more modest vaccine schedule someday -- from this debate.

    3. This is the original article I found referencing Dr. Levy:

      Here is the abstract from his actual paper if you'd like a little heavier reading:

      There are some physicians suggesting less aggressive vaccine schedules now including Dr. Sears and our own pediatrician who is willing to work with families to customize a vaccine schedule based on a individual child's risk factors.

      I understand why the CDC wants an aggressive schedule: their goal is to prevent disease. And for the most part their schedule does that. It just leaves a lot of injured children and casualties in its wake. This is why it is important for parents to become informed about both the diseases we are vaccinating against as well as the risks of the vaccines themselves

    4. Please remember that vaccines are only, at best 60% affective. So your vaccinated child still has a 40% chance of contracting measles (or any so-called 'preventable' disease. To put that in laymen's terms..if a group of 10 children went to another country (or an infected area of the US), 4 out of 10 would still contract the disease. So not only could your child be the 1 out of 1,000,000 to get a severe reaction to the vaccine, but they could also have complications from the disease itself. Double whammy at the hands of disease and failed disease prevention.
      Still think your odds are great?

  3. I vaccinated all of my children slowly based on a lot of reading/research and talking with my doctor about the highest priorities in terms of risk. I believe in the power of vaccines to help and I believe it is our right - possibly our responsibility - to educate ourselves like you did about what the real risks are, what vaccines contain, and always seek out the safest options. What the safest option is may be the real debate.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brenna. What the safest option is will also vary based on your personal or family history of reactions to vaccines, your location, local disease threats, lifestyle (at least for hep b and guardasil) etc.

      What the best choice is for my family may be different than the best choice for yours - and that's ok!

  4. I have too much to say on the unproven validity/efficacy of vaccines plus the various neuro toxins and immune adjuvants they contain. The immune system has very close links to the gut biome consequently a healthy gut/diet/immunity are daisy chained together. I could go on and discuss the psychological coercion now being used, something like the Salem witch trials, and in some states/countries it has now become mandatory to vaccinate your child; a dangerous medical procedure that has never been tested – show me the clinical trials.
    I leave you with a few links - FYI
    Viera Scheibner - important books on Vaccines (scientific research)
    'Vaccination Bible' by Lynne McTaggart -

  5. The only error I see is that the risk from the vaccine is not actually 1/1,000,000. The vaccine is given more than once. (if I remember correctly, it's 3 times) increasing the risk from the vaccine 3 fold.

    1. Thanks for that info! I'll look into it and see how the CDC does their stats. If I need to I will update it. That's even more unfortunate for the vaccine if the true risks are 1 in 333,333

  6. I am a former pro-vaxxer. Its only been recently that I've been questioning my child's vaccinations. He has all his vaccines up to age 2, and I am considering discontinuing the rest. The question is - how do I deal with family gatherings if I don't know whether my nieces or nephews have been vaccinated. I've heard its dangerous to interact with recently vaccinated children if your child isn't vaccinated or is under vaccinated.

    1. It is true and recognized by the CDC that people who receive some live virus vaccines such as Flu, Whooping Cough and Chicken Pox can shed the disease for about a week but up to 3 weeks after receiving the vaccine.

      All my research on it (which is admittedly minimal) says that the "shedding" happens the same way the regular disease is passed - nasal secretions, saliva etc. (as in it doesn't just fall off the them like skin shedding).

      As a minimally vaccinated family, we try to follow good hygiene - lots of hand and face washing around others - especially during fall and winter when illness tends to go around. We also take elderberry syrup on a regular basis to boost immunity (

      I would talk to your pediatrician if you have more specific concerns.

  7. Your math is very very wrong.

    Two issues at play here. It calculate rates over time,the denominator must include the estimated population rate FOR EACH YEAR, which would make the risk you calculated much lower. However, that's not the main problem.

    Your denominator CANNOT be the US census, because you are talking about risk in the unvaxed group. So let's go with the risk for one year, since it's easier. Lets assume vaccination coverage is around 97.

    250 (your number)*.8

    (of the 250 that got wild measles, 80% of those will be unvaxed) which will give us a numerator of 200.

    Of the 74,181,467 children in the US(remember this is a one year risk estimate only, thus using one 1 year of estimated children) let's say 97% are vaccinated. That leaves 222,544 unvacinated (and let's assume, for the sake of biasing to the null, un-immmune from previous infection).

    The RISK of contracting measles is 200/2,225,444=.009% or 9 in 100,000.

    Because we know that the vaccine is not 100% immunity, we know some vaccinated people still get it. They do not, however, get severe complications from it.
    So, the risk of severe complications from measles is calculated as
    9/2,225,444=.0004=4 in 1 million.

  8. But let's assume that vaxed people DO get severe measles complications at the same rate as vaxed. That would make the risk of severe complications among unvaxed=
    7/2,225,444=3 in 1 million, while the rate of severe complications among the vaxed group 2/7,1956,022 which comes to 2.8 in 100,000,000.

  9. I just re-read your post and my 9 number in my calculation is incorrect.

    So,if statistically 9 out of 3,000. That is not 1 out of 1000 that you previously mentioned, but let's assume that is correct. That works out to .75 per 250 in any given year.

    Rate of measles complications among nonvaxed assuming they have all the severe complications.

    .75/2,225,444=3.4 in ten million of having a severe complication of measles. Herd immunity does indeed play a role in keeping these rates down, one doesn't have to look any further than Lebanon to see that.

    I am also not finding the 1 in a million stat you quote. According to the CDC website, the risk if severe complication is not quantifiable. They DO state the risk of severe allergic reaction at less that 1 in a million.

  10. Your link/source for the *MMR* vaccine risks is linked to the *anthrax* vaccine, which is generally only given to the military and high-risk groups with potential to be exposed to bioterrorism--it's a riskier vaccine. If you link to the actual MMR CDC info, you'll see that the most serious adverse event is serious allergic reaction in 1/1 million, and nothing more serious (like the illnesses you list) can be linked to the MMR vaccine.

    If everyone followed your advice/options and chose not to vaccinate, indeed we would return to levels of the disease that you see in places like Lebanon. Your child has such a low risk of contracting the disease because it's been virtually eliminated by...vaccines.

    P.S. Oregon has the highest rate of un-vaccinated children in the country. Rates are as high as 80% in some communities, so the TX outbreak is one plane ride away. And that's only for measles.

    1. Hi, Tahroma. I checked all the links and they seem to go to the right place. The CDC vaccine side effects page lists all the vaccines in alphabetical order (so it starts with Anthrax). Scroll down to get to MMR. (this link should jump straight there:

      I would definitely say "serious allergic reaction" - which includes a trigger for major neurological issues IS the most serious thing coming from this vaccine. Although the CDC vaccine side effect site also says this: "Several other severe problems have been reported after a child gets MMR vaccine, including:Deafness, Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness, Permanent brain damage."

      I think you and I will disagree about whether or not herd immunity for measles was created by vaccines. Measles was already in sharp decline when the vaccine was introduced for wide spread use. Even the term "herd immunity" was coined as researchers studied the effect of wild measles on a population. Catching wild measles as children is what created the original herd immunity. Dr Levy of John Hopkins University had even said he thinks if we continue insisting on mass vaccination that we will become more at risk for measles as a population because the "immunity" derived from vaccines is shorter term and less effective than actually catching measles, putting large groups of vaccinated people at risk for catching the disease as they get older. (

      My final note is that we do not oppose vaccinations. We oppose the vaccination for Measles for our child based on the current risks of the vaccine as compared to the risk of contracting wild measles.

  11. You calculated the risks incorrectly and compared them to stats that don't exist

  12. Forgot to does measles being in decline proof that herd immunity does not exist? And also, why mention Indonesia? Why does it matter where it is coming from? I am sorry, but you rationale is full of holes. You can choose not to vaccinate, but your arguments are faulty

    1. I do not deny herd immunity's existence. Where I disagree with many vaccine advocates is on WHERE herd immunity comes from. Measles herd immunity was identified in the early 1900's before the existence of Measles vaccines. Many vaccine advocates today, however, insist herd immunity is a recent phenomenon and is the result of the measles vaccine.

    2. Please point to a source that states that....I think it has been well established in the literature that herd immunity is not a recent phenomenon. But my question is what does it matter? If it's a thing, it's a thing. Many diseases were on the decline for a variety of reasons and those factors are important to public health...but again what difference does that make? Are you asserting if vaccines were not created then levels would have continued to decline? Look, I am not trying to beat you up, but your stats are wrong and your concern about whre herd immunity comes from is irerelevant and so is the fact that this outbreak comes from what do you have left? As a public blogger, I think you have a responsibility to defend your points.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Great Article. I haven't always taken a stance on a lot of issues like because I was always lost in the worldly things, just living for the weekend and where I can get my next beer. I have revamped my life learned a lot and am becoming a strong advocate for health. My mission now is to empower people with the knowledge and awareness to increase their quality of life through proper nutrition supplementation and physical fitness, and teach people how to achieve optimal health naturally without drugs or surgery. I am a also a staunch advocate against most (almost all vaccinations), and pharmaceuticals. Health is so important and there are so many people just listen to there Doctors like they are Gods.

    If you or anyone you know may have an interest in joining my team to help spread the message about health please share my website.

    I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health as it goes well with your soul ~3 John 1:2

  14. Just wanted to say thanks for your courage to present a subject that will surely get people angry. I am a licensed practical nurse, retired, who chose NOT to vaccinate after my second of five children was born after reading several exposés on the historical and present problems with vaccinations. I now have 9 unvaccinated grandchildren, and am praying that enough people will wake up to how vaccination is harming generations of our children. Some may say I'm just "lucky" that none of my children or grandchildren acquired any deadly diseases, but, 14 out of 14... Doesn't feel like chance to me! (By the way, they did get chicken pox and measles, right on cue, and never suffered again in adulthood).

  15. I'm not sure I got your math exactly, but did you account for the fact that you ahve to get MMR vaccine boosters as well (and they would carry the same risk)? Does that mean the odds of complications would increase because EACH shot would have the 1/1,000,000 risk?

    1. The unfortunate truth is that I did NOT account for needing multiple injections of MMR. The CDC's published complication rate is PER 1 MILLION INJECTIONS. So if 333,333 each got 3 doses of MMR, 1 of them would have a severe complication so then the odds become 3 in 1 million people having complication from injection vs. 1 in 8.24 million having complications from measles.

      I felt like it was hard to determine how many people got multiple shots as many people will start a vaccine series but never finish or will finish the initial series but not come back later for booster shots. The truth, though,b is that if you get multiple MMR injections, your odds of developing a complication go up with each injection.

  16. As previously pointed out, there are various assumptions and estimations made in your math, but your conclusion seems to be that the risk of a serious complication via vaccination is greater than the risk of a serious complication from not being vaccinated and subsequently contracting measles.

    I do not find this to be a compelling argument against the measles vaccination. For one, since you've chosen not to vaccinate multiple members of your family, the risk of contraction for everyone in the household goes up substantially, particularly for those who are not vaccinated. I could go into more detail about this if needed, but I think it should be self-evident why this is the case.

    Second, as there are no longer single-antigen vaccines in the U.S. for MMR, I will assume that you are foregoing mumps and rubella vaccines as well. In order to make a mathematical case, a similar risk analysis for those should also be taken into account.

    A third factor is that the non-severe reactions/symptoms are being glossed over here. The 1-in-a-million vs 1-in-8-million argument misses the much more common and likely "typical" cases. While statistically the vaccinated child is much more likely to experience unpleasant vaccine reactions than an unvaccinated child is to contract measles, the intensity of the typical measles symptoms will be remarkably unpleasant for your child (let alone for an adult if they are unfortunate enough to contract measles later in life). Not to mention of course that the vaccine reaction is not contagious.

    Lastly, the whole premise that the risks of severe complications from vaccination are greater than those of contracting the disease for the unvaccinated seems to be a compelling argument that vaccination has been quite a success. If enough people choose not to vaccinate then clearly these numbers would flip, and both the vaccinated and unvaccinated would be much greater risk.

    I have little interest in arguing the ethics of herd-immunity, but in practical terms you are creating a greater risk for every other member of your household as well as society for each child you choose not to vaccinate. If there is a compelling reason to make this choice in the interest of prioritizing the theoretical health benefit to one's own child at the expense of other children then that is a choice that each of us have. But when the argument hinges on comparing only the severe cases of 1-in-a-million vs 1-in-8-million, that is hardly practical or compelling in my opinion.

  17. Replies
    1. Autism is included in the "permanent brain damage" potential side effect that the CDC lists for MMR vaccines.

      Autism is such a multi-faceted issue that I didn't want to make this particular post about autism. If you are interested in reducing your child's risk of autism, you should explore ways to reduce your child's overall toxin exposure which includes some vaccines.

  18. thank you for your sweet article! well written! easy to read and no pushing! i loved it!


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