Claim: In the last ten years no one has died of measles in the U.S., but more than 100 people have died due to the MMR vaccine.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, February 2015]
Origins: During a then-current measles outbreak, on
The article circulated widely during a time of increased debate over parental decisions about vaccinations, particularly among those who are opposed to the practice. In some iterations the statement was amended to specify "child deaths," but the article itself stated there were zero deaths (among all age groups) from measles in the United States in the timeframe cited. That claim is inaccurate, as the CDC has reported that a Washington woman who passed away in early 2015 died from (an initially undetected) measles infection:
The woman was most likely exposed to measles at a local medical facility during a recent outbreak in Clallam County. She was there at the same time as a person who later developed a rash and was contagious for measles. The woman had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system. She didn't have some of the common symptoms of measles such as a rash, so the infection wasn't discovered until after her death. The cause of death was pneumonia due to measles.
This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles. People with compromised immune systems often cannot be vaccinated against measles. Even when vaccinated, they may not have a good immune response when exposed to disease; they may be especially vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Public health officials recommend that everyone who is eligible for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine get vaccinated so they can help protect themselves, their families, and the vulnerable people in their community.
(Other sources, including the CDC, sometimes confusingly cite 2003 as the year of the last previous recorded measles death in the U.S. According to the CDC, that difference is due to the 2003 death being listed as "confirmed," while the other cases have statuses of "reported" or "suspected" but not "confirmed.")
The Health Impact News article also failed to address the reason why measles killed so few Americans in the period cited. The glaring omission had a very specific root cause, namely measles elimination:
Measles elimination is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for
The second portion of the claim entailed deaths attributed directly to the MMR vaccine in the same period. Even if a minute number of fatalities were proved to have resulted from the MMR vaccine, it would still be impossible to accurately contrast that figure with deaths due to a disease no longer spreading in the United States during the period selected. That speculation itself, however, is a big "if." According to the article, their figures for MMR deaths were culled from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), but VAERS does not exist to track specific and proved adverse reactions to vaccines. The purpose of the system is clearly denoted on the VAERS site (in a disclaimer not reproduced by the article spreading the claim):
Few people died of measles in the U.S. between 2004 and 2015 because measles was classified as eliminated in 2000. Relatively few people in the U.S. contracted the viral infection after that, so it stands to reason far fewer would go on to die of it. And while more than
Finally, the possibility of death is not the only reason one should (or should want to) vaccinate a child against measles. As the CDC notes in their measles
Last updated: 3 July 2015