Congenital Rubella Syndrome

I hinted at this story in a chapter of “The Poxes”. What you are about to read is real. It really did happen. However, due to privacy concerns, I will not disclose some of the information like the real name of the person, where they lived, where they travelled, etc. It is also not meant to scare you into getting a vaccine or not traveling to a part of the world where there is a lot of a vaccine-preventable disease. The main aim of this story is to let you know that these things happen, and they are happening at a higher rate than any vaccine injury you can think of. Also, “The Poxes” is on hiatus. I’m working with a colleague who is better at writing than I am to refine the story and expand it into a good, gripping tale for you all to read. My version ended in two more chapters. The ideas we’ve been tossing around take us into about 30 chapters with the same conclusion I had in my head, only with more blood and guts. So stay tuned for that. Until then, I give you Stacy’s story. (Again, that’s not her real name.)

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There is zero evidence of vaccine safety and effectiveness, except when there is

I told you before the story of a father whose daughter developed Type I diabetes and he decided to blame the hepatitis B vaccine she received at birth three years before her diagnosis. That’s one heck of an incubation time, by the way. I told you how he wrote a self-published book and now has gushing anti-vaccine fans on his Facebook page all the time, adoring his every word. I’ve also told you how not one of his followers calls him on his shenanigans. He’s even gone as far as to quote HIV/AIDS denialists on how mean and evil vaccines are. In short, there is no anti-vaccine theory that this guy is not willing to listen to. And there seems to be nothing he’s not willing to say, including this:

“if you show my (sic) one sound and independent conducted scientific study that vaccines prevent illness I will accept your words ‘vaccine preventable illness’. Those advocating vaccine safety and effectiveness are the first to pint (sic) out that correlation doesn’t equal causation, yet there is nothing but correlation to the claim that vaccines eradicated diseases. It is just as valid to claim that better sanitary conditions and nutrition eradicated diseases. When I was a child I had measles, chicken pox, etc. and so did everyone I know. Those were acceptable childhood illnesses and very few children suffered complications. Thanks to a massive propaganda campaign today even a cold is considered to be bad and therefore everyone accepts the notion that we need vaccines. Thanks to vaccines our children suffer now from autism, autoimmune diseases, etc. Great business model as those kids are hooked for a lifetime to receive drug treatments. Bad medicine though.”

Yeah, there’s is zero evidence of vaccine safety and effectiveness, according to him. Notice how he brings out the “sanitation and nutrition” card. Yes, populations have less disease when they wash their hands, drink clean water, have working sewage systems, and eat well. “Populations” is the operating word. If they go without vaccinating, even the most industrialized nations fall prey to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Look at Wales. It is on the island of Great Britain, part of Europe, highly industrialized and advanced. Why are they having an outbreak of measles with hundreds of cases? Did their water run out? Did they run out of soap to wash their hands? Fruits and veggies no longer on the menu? No, they stopped vaccinating enough and measles came back. Simple.

This is what gets to me, though: “Those were acceptable childhood illnesses and very few children suffered complications.” Yeah, to him, things like Congenital Rubella Syndrome were no big deal. Except when it was. If you read about CRS, you’ll see how horrible it is and how common it was before the MMR vaccine:

“Before vaccination was introduced in the early 1970s, it is estimated that 200 – 300 infants were born with congenital rubella syndrome in each non-epidemic year in the UK; many more were born in epidemic years. Rubella in pregnancy was responsible for 15 – 20 per cent of significant congenital hearing loss and two per cent of congenital heart disease…

Rubella immunisation was introduced in the UK in 1970 for women of childbearing age and school girls. Since then there have been than 800 babies born disabled as a result of their mothers catching rubella in the early stages of pregnancy. In the same period there have been over 6,500 rubella related terminations.

Since the triple MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 in the UK there have been just 74 congenital rubella births and only 16 this century; the cases that are reported tend to be to women born abroad who were not immunised as children, and the women themselves have often acquired infection abroad.”

Yeah, deafness and blindness, no big deal. But he’ll say that it was good nutrition and hygiene since 1988 in the UK that have brought down these cases, making the vaccine only a happy coincidence. He really is that vile.

G.A.M.E.D.

The human immune system is not short of fantastic. If you were to think of it as an army, it’s an army that can take heavy losses but keeps on going. It’s an army that has an almost limitless amount of raw material to act against invaders. It’s an army that can follow a “scorched earth” policy if it needs to. It’s an army that learns its lessons. It’s phenomenal, and I am never disappointed when reading about some new finding about the immune system.

Like any other army, our immune system needs time to mature after we’re born before it can successfully take on all invaders. Lucky for us, we have some help in the way of antibodies. These little proteins can be specific and attack only a certain type of pathogen (virus, bacteria, fungus, etc.). They can also be non-specific and attack anything that is not our own.

Antibodies are created by white blood cells called “B lymphocytes”. When pieces of a pathogen are “presented” to the B lymphocytes, they create antibodies that match the antigens (proteins or sugars) on the pathogen. The antibodies will then attach to those antigens and either immobilize the pathogens – making them useless – or “tag” the pathogens for destruction. Once tagged, the pathogen is consumed by another type of white blood cell. Again, it’s a pretty phenomenal thing to imagine.

The easy acronym to remember the five types of antibodies is “GAMED”. Each antibody type is also known as an “immunoglobulin” or “Ig”. IgG is the most common one in the body, followed by IgA, then IgM, then IgE, then IgD… Hence the “GAMED” acronym. Here’s the thing, though: IgM appears first in the body after an infection, followed by IgG and the others. IgA and IgE are more present in body secretions like tears and saliva. While IgD is more found in tissues or attached to other cells (as are some IgE).

The other thing you need to remember before we dive into the meat of this post is that IgG is the only antibody that crosses the placental barrier between mother and unborn fetus. IgM is too big to cross, and the others are only found on secretions or in cells that do not cross. Finally, remember that IgG is specific. That is, you MUST be exposed to the pathogen (or its antigens, when you get a vaccine) in order to have the IgG antibodies in your blood.

Now, onto the meat.

When a women gets pregnant, her immune system is toned down. It’s not shut down, of course. That would be an evolutionary disadvantage of the highest kind. It is toned down because the fetus developing in her womb is different than her. The fetus has half of its own cells (and antigens) from the father. Unless the mother and father were closely related (a whole other post), the mother’s immune system will really not like the child if it were to encounter it. So the mother’s immune system is told to chill, AND the placenta forms a barrier to keep the mother’s white blood cells and non-specific antibodies from coming over and attacking the child.

Once born, the child has mother’s IgG antibodies for about six months, maybe a little longer. The child also has their own white blood cells, many of them. If faced with a pathogen, the child’s immune system WILL defend the child vigorously. This is why a newborn can and will have a fever from an infection. This is why a newborn can fend off the millions or billions of antigens that land on it within minutes of being born. (Think of all the hugging and kissing done those first few days after delivery. And think of where the child came through if delivered vaginally.)

Check that, don’t think about it much.

Now that you are armed with this knowledge, you can begin to understand why it is necessary for a mother to be up to date on all her immunizations. Her IgG antibodies created through exposure to diseases or through immunization will be passed on to the child and HELP protect the child for about six months after delivery. Mom’s IgA and IgE in breastmilk will also help protect the child’s airway and stomach in specific and non-specific ways. That’s why, when faced with the choice between breastmilk and formula, breastmilk is the way to go.

One more thing before we’re done here. Another thing that crosses the placental barrier is a virus. One particularly nasty virus that does this is Rubella, the virus that causes German measles. Rubella in a pregnant woman means a lot of trouble for the developing fetus. Many times, it means death. Congenital Rubella Syndrome – the name for the infection of the fetus – is horrible. You don’t wish it on your worst enemy. It causes deformities, mental retardation, blindness, and skin rashes subject to infection on the child.

There was a time when Congenital Rubella Syndrome was common in the United States. Mothers who became pregnant had to be watched carefully if they came into contact with a person who had German measles. Others were given medications and even serum from people who already had German measles in an attempt to stop the infection from reaching the fetus. Those were some dark days.

Then the vaccine (MMR in the US) came along and all that faded away into the back of our minds. Babies born with CRS are very rare in the United States, and they are usually born from mothers who were exposed to Rubella in another country. Unfortunately, this rarity also means that the anti-vax brigades say things like “Why vaccinate if it’s not around anymore?” They’re asking the wrong question, of course.

The question they should be asking is, “Why is Rubella not around anymore?” But that means that they’ll have to admit that it’s because of vaccines, and that is not happening any time soon.