A recent increase in cases of mumps in Ireland, as well as a rise in the number of cases of measles across Europe, has led to concern among officials at the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE).
Second and third level institutions in Ireland have been affected by this rise in incidences of mumps. According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), who are committed to the surveillance of communicable diseases, there has been a stark 84 per cent increase in cases of mumps in Ireland over the first five weeks of 2019, relative to the first five weeks of 2018, with a total of 231 cases.
Among the institutions affected is Blackrock College, which cancelled a senior cup quarter final rugby match against St. Michael’s College due to concerns over the spread of mumps.
In response to this rise in cases of mumps in Dublin, Trinity College issued warnings to their students and faculty after cases of students with mumps became known.
In an email by Dr. David McGrath, the Director of College Health Services, sent to all students and staff of Trinity College last Friday, all were warned to “check they have had the two MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccines and to make an appointment for vaccination either at college health or with their own GP if they’re not protected.”
Dr. McGrath warned of symptoms including “facial pain, fever, headaches and swelling in the front of the ears” and how mumps could lead to more severe diseases such as meningitis, brain inflammation and deafness. Students were also advised to avoid college for five days if they develop swelling.
In a letter from Dr. Mary Conlon, a Senior Medical Office for the HSE, that was also sent with Dr. McGrath’s email, it was confirmed that there have been cases in Trinity College of this disease and the same warnings were repeated for those who have never had mumps nor received two MMR vaccines.
UCD have sent out an email to all students, again warning of symptoms, encouraging at-risk students to get vaccinated and those who may be affected to avoid other students for five days. At the time of print, UCD confirmed that one student has been diagnosed with mumps.
Further fears have arisen recently in relation to those who are not receiving the MMR vaccine. The concept of “herd immunity” has become compromised across Europe. This means many communities now have fewer than 95% of members vaccinated, meaning these communities are at risk of outbreaks of diseases that are typically thought of as preventable.
Despite a record number of children getting vaccinated in 2018, there was also record numbers of cases of measles in Europe with a total of 82,000 across the 47 countries that commented. There was a total of 72 deaths from these cases.
In Ireland, all children between 4 and 5 have access to a free MMR vaccine as well as the 4 in 1 booster to protect against diphtheria, polio, tetanus and whooping cough.
Fear surrounding the MMR vaccine, which spawned the “anti-vax” movement can be traced back to former doctor Andrew Wakefield, and continues to grow across the world. Mr. Wakefield published a study in The Lancet in 1998 that suggested there was a link between the MMR vaccine, autism and bowel disease. Since then, his research has been discredited and his credentials revoked. It is widely known that he falsified these results and the consensus among organisations such as the WHO and the HSE firmly states there is no link between vaccines and autism.
The HSE, who provide this as well as information for parents, points out that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism and that potential side effects, such as mild rashes and “mini mumps” only occur in rare cases, have no long-term side effects and are not contagious.
A 2017 poll by TheJournal.ie found that over 12,000 people out of a total of 20,108, would not be in favour of a halving of child benefit payments for parents who chose not to vaccinate their children.
An older poll by the same source found that, of 10,000 participants, roughly 10% were against vaccinating their children or were unsure, despite the evidence provided on the webpage suggesting that vaccinating your children is the safest decision for them. The article featured the opinions of Trinity College Professor Kingston Mills from the School of Biochemistry and Immunology who stated “it’s frustrating to read about people who give their opinions when it’s not based on fact” and encouraged people to trust the findings of peer-reviewed studies.
Despite a clear professional consensus, “anti-vax” movements are still gaining support and have spread to Ireland. One such Irish organisation is Irish Vaccination Awareness, an organisation who promote scepticism towards vaccinations, claiming to “support informed decisions” while also admitting they “are not in a position to advise on medical matters.”