The letter R in MMR stands for rubella. When I was a kid we called it the German measles. (Not to be confused with regular measles–or rubeola–which was in the news this year.) My siblings and I all had rubella when we were growing up; we got a fever and a rash. We stayed home from school for a few days. According to the CDC the symptoms are often mild and complications don’t happen often. Adults are more likely to have complications than children.
But rubella can cause birth defects if a woman has rubella during pregnancy. The vaccine issue popped up again as I worked on some continuing education for nursing. After reading about lab tests that check for infections during pregnancy, I went to the CDC’s page about rubella.
Being infected with rubella in the first three months of pregnancy has the most risk. The rubella virus can affect every organ in the body of the developing fetus. According to the CDC this is the reason that the rubella vaccine was developed—to avoid congenital rubella. The virus can also have delayed effects. Here is the quote that jumped off the page.
Manifestations of CRS [congenital rubella syndrome]may be delayed from 2 to 4 years. Diabetes mellitus appearing in later childhood occurs frequently in children with CRS. In addition, progressive encephalopathy resembling subacute sclerosing panencephalitis has been observed in some older children with CRS. Children with CRS have a higher than expected incidence of autism.
Recently I was reading research reports that described the development of the rubella vaccine. Timo Vesikari described the research in an article.
Under the seniors I was to do much of the work: vaccinate pregnant women prescreened to be seronegative for rubella and scheduled to have a legal abortion a week or two later. The plan was to isolate rubella (vaccine) virus from the products of conception [the baby] and, in fact, we succeeded in doing that. *
The process of developing the rubella vaccine involves viable fetal cells that are infected with rubella. The line of fetal cells is used to make the vaccine. This is an ingredient in the rubella vaccine that became available in 1969.
The full list of ingredients in the current MMR according to the CDC’s website: Medium 199, Minimum Essential Medium, Phosphate, recombinant human albumin, neomycin, sorbitol, hydrolyzed gelatin, chick embryo cell culture, WI-38 human diploid lung fibroblasts. WI-38 refers to the specific line of cells developed from an aborted fetus of approximately 3 months gestation.
Why does this bother me? The combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine became part of the vaccine schedule in 1971. [Note: the vaccine developed from fetal cells became standard in 1979] At 12 or 15 months of age children received the first dose of the MMR vaccine. In 1970 the rate of autism was 1 in 10,000. In 2012 the rate was 1 in 88. The rate continues to become more frequent. Click here to see a chart with the increasing rate of autism.
If a fetus that is infected with the virus during pregnancy can show long-term effects on health during childhood, is it possible that in some children the vaccine can cause long-term effects? Is there a time period that the vaccine is more risky? Is it possible that the rubella portion of the MMR, in combination with other factors, contributes to the rising autism rate? A large number of research studies indicate that this is possible. Click here for a link to the studies.
Do we completely understand how the vaccine impacts a toddler over a period of years? The current vaccine injury program requires that severe reactions be documented in a timely fashion. Only with this documentation can the family have a hearing before a special court. If the court decides that a vaccine caused the injury, the family is compensated. The U.S. government has paid out 3.2 billion dollars in compensation for vaccine injuries.
Who is looking for the side effects that may occur over an extended period of time? Who believes the observations of parents? Coincidence or side effects?
The current CDC schedule requires 2 doses of the MMR: first one at age of 12 – 15 months, second one at age 4 – 6 years. The second dose is given because 2 – 5% of children don’t develop an immune response after one dose. If a child has had one MMR vaccine she may not need a second dose. A blood test can determine if a child has antibodies. A second dose might not be necessary.
In hindsight I wish that I had been better informed about vaccines when my children were little. I urge parents to become educated on this topic. As Christians, how do we feel about the injection of cells derived from an aborted fetus into a healthy toddler? a child whose immune system is still developing?
CORRECTION: Although the rubella vaccine from fetal cells was developed in 1969 it was not initially accepted in the United States. The first rubella vaccine was developed from duck embryos. The vaccine developed from fetal cells was licensed in the U.S. in 1979 and replaced the vaccine developed from duck embryos.
*Vesikari, Timo, M.D., PhD., “From Rubella to Rotavirus and Beyond”, Human Vaccines & Immunotherapies, vol. 11, issue 6, 2015 pp. 1302-1305.