The measles vaccine has initiated a grand debate about immunization. A recent outbreak in the United States has reignited the concern over an illness that, although relatively harmless in most cases, has been somewhat nonexistent in recent years.  Concerns over vaccines and autism appear to have resulted in the decline of vaccination rates, possibly contributing to the outbreak. But is this actually true? Or, as the research suggests, could the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine simply not be as effective as we’re being told? Or, could it even be dangerous?
What’s in the MMR Vaccine?
The ingredients contained in most vaccines are often unrecognizable terms that should, at first glance, appear worrisome. Injecting chemical ingredients–not to mention a live (albeit weakened) virus–into your bloodstream doesn’t sound like the wisest decision. Here’s a basic rundown of the ingredients in the MMR vaccine :
Minimum Essential Medium
This is the medium that grows the Rubella virus and contains vitamins and amino acids and fetal bovine serum, which is produced from blood collected at commercial slaughterhouses.
Typically added to maintain pH balance and to keep active ingredients suspended in water. It can cause gastrointestinal problems but has also been linked with organ damage. In some instances, it can cause a severe allergic reaction that might include heart arrhythmia, seizure, and loss of consciousness.
Recombinant Human Albumin
Human albumin is a protein found in blood plasma and recombinant means it’s genetically engineered. In essence, the vaccine contains genetically-engineered human blood, and it’s uncertain as to the source. When this is injected, it’s been known to cause chills, fever, nausea, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing.
An antibiotic that’s been known to cause serious allergic reactions in some individuals. Anyone who has ever had a life threatening allergic reaction to neomycin (or antibiotics in general) should absolutely avoid the MMR vaccination! One of the scariest things about neomycin is that it can cause late reactions, sometimes 3-4 days after exposure, well into the time period when you may think you’re in the clear.
A synthetic sweetener often added to foods and beverages, sorbitol is used in vaccines as a stabilizer. Some people are allergic to sorbitol or fructose and should avoid it but even without the allergy, sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal issues and aggravate IBS.
Also used as a stabilizer. This medium contains vitamins, amino acids, and fetal bovine serum. Fetal bovine serum, again, is produced from the blood collected at commercial slaughterhouses.
Hydrolyzed gelatin is collagen collected from the bones of animals, including cows, fish, poultry, and rabbits. It contains free glutamic acid (MSG) and aspartic acid, two amino acids that can negatively affect neurological health. Even worse, injecting gelatin greatly increases the risk of infection from synthetic growth hormones and mad cow disease.
Chick Embryo Cell Culture
Derived from chick embryo, this cell culture is used to grow and store the live virus in the vaccine. When injected, the immune system is exposed and gets to work to build short-lived immunity against the illness.
WI-38 Human Diploid Lung Fibroblasts
WI-38 is a cell culture line obtained from aborted fetuses and used in the production of various vaccines. The purpose of this cell line is to culture and grow live viruses.
What About the Measles Booster Shot?
Following the initial dose of the measles vaccine, a booster shot is recommended at varying intervals to support immunity against the disease. The booster is the same vaccine containing a weakened version of the live virus that targets the immune system in an effort to elevate it back to a protective state. Since a vaccine, if effective, is said to wean after a few years’ time, receiving a booster every few years or so is supposed to rev up the body’s defense system by recharging the previous immunization.
Adults who missed out on the MMR vaccine in their childhood and those tested to show they are not immune to the disease are urged to receive a booster. The issue is that the MMR booster contains similar ingredients as the MMR vaccine, prompting the same health threats. While most people can receive a booster without any issue whatsoever, there is always a risk that reactions can occur following injection of the live virus.
Measles Vaccine and Autism: What’s the Connection?
It should be noted that the CDC advises pregnant women against receiving the MMR vaccine for fear that it may harm the developing fetus. This warning should tip most people off. While it’s not conclusive that the MMR vaccine–or any vaccine, for that matter–causes autism, we do know that a number of connections have been made. A now-refuted publication in the medical journal The Lancet reported that the MMR vaccine and autism were indefinitely linked. Despite the claims of the author, other reputable publications and mainstream media outlets continue to explore the possibility of the connection between neurological damage and immunization. 
A number of cases relating to the MMR vaccine and autism have been made public. The Italian Health Ministry in 2012 ruled that the MMR vaccine received by a nine-year-old boy caused him to develop autism. The family was awarded with £140,000 in damages. According to the news report at the time, up to 100 similar cases were being investigated by lawyers in Italy. Health officials generally regard the development of autism immediately following vaccination a mere coincidence, but with more and more cases coming to light, it becomes increasingly difficult to support this theory.
The Full Story
The media is quick to blame the anti-vaxxers, as they’re calling them, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children on moral, religious, or health grounds, for the measles outbreak in North America. This one-sided viewpoint isn’t investigating the numerous accounts of adverse reactions to vaccinations, or the fact that the measles vaccine isn’t always 100% effective at preventing the illness. Measles, like the chicken pox, is a relatively benign disease that, once infected and recovered from, provides immunity from future occurrences. This isn’t to say that infection with the illness is ideal or to downplay the negative complications that can arise, but it is a conversation worth having in today’s discussion on vaccines.
How are you approaching the news of the measles outbreak? What are your thoughts on the vaccine? We’d love to hear your voice in the comments!
- Walter A. Orenstein, Mark J. Papania and Melinda E. Wharton. Measles Elimination in the United States. J Infect Dis. (2004) 189 (Supplement 1): S1-S3. doi: 10.1086/377693.
- Centers for Disease Control. Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary. CDC Fact Sheet.
- Sharyl Attkisson. Vaccines, Autism and Brain Damage: What’s in a Name? CBS News.
- Paul Bignell. Italian court reignites MMR vaccine debate after award over child with autism. The Independent.