Can Measles Vaccine Cause Injury & Death?

Common side effects from the MMR vaccine include low-grade fever, skin rash, itching, hives, swelling, reddening of skin, and weakness. Serious adverse events following MMR vaccination include seizures, severe headaches, double vision, vomiting, joint pain, or pain in the digestive system.1
Other more rare but serious complications reported by Merck in MMR vaccine post-marketing surveillance include:2
  • brain inflammation (encephalitis) and encephalopathy (chronic brain dysfunction);
  • panniculitis (inflammation of the fat layer under the skin);
  • atypical measles; syncope (sudden loss of consciousness, fainting);
  • vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels);
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas);
  • diabetes mellitus;
  • thrombocytopenia purpura (blood disorder);
  • leukocytosis (high white blood cell count);
  • anaphylaxis (shock);
  • bronchial spasms;
  • arthritis and arthralgia (joint pain);
  • myalgia (muscle pain);
  • polyneuritis (inflammation of several nerves simultaneously).
Using the MedAlerts search engine, which facilitates an online search of the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database, as of December 14, 2014 there have been 6,962 serious adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in connection with measles vaccine since 1990, with over half of those occurring in children three years old and under. Of these events 329 were deaths, with over half of the deaths occurring in children under three years of age. Adverse events following MMR vaccination reported to VAERS include:
  • lupus (autoimmune connective tissue disorder);
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (inflammation of the nerves);
  • Encephalitis;
  • aseptic meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain);
  • deafness;
  • cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle);
  • hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes (collapse/shock);
  • convulsions;
  • subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE);
  • ataxia (loss of ability to coordinate muscle movements);
  • parathesia (numbness, burning, prickling, itching, tingling skins sensation indicating nerve irritation)
In its MMRII product information insert3 Merck also notes that during MMR vaccine post-marketing surveillance, there have been post-vaccination reports of:
  • pneumonia;
  • erythema multiforme (skin disorder from an allergic reaction or infection);
  • urticarial rash (hives, itching from an allergic reaction);
  • measles-like rash;
  • burning/stinging at the injection site;
  • nerve deafness;
  • otitis media (ear infection);
  • retinitis (inflammation of the retina of the eye);
  • optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve);
  • conjunctivitis.
Merck also gives the following warnings in their product insert about vaccine strain measles virus infection and shedding: 4
  • Measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE), pneumonitis and death as a direct consequence of disseminated measles vaccine virus infection have been reported in immunocompromised individuals inadvertently vaccinated with measles-containing vaccine;” although Merck also states that “Children and young adults who are known to be infected with human immunodeficiency viruses and are not immunosuppressed may be vaccinated” and that “The ACIP has stated that “patients with leukemia in remission who have not received chemotherapy for at least 3 months may receive live virus vaccines. Short-term (<2 weeks), low- to moderate-dose systemic corticosteroid therapy, topical steroid therapy (e.g. nasal, skin), long-term alternate-day 6 treatment with low to moderate doses of short-acting systemic steroid, and intra-articular, bursal, or tendon injection of corticosteroids are not immunosuppressive in their usual doses and do not contraindicate the administration of measles, mumps, or rubella vaccine.”
  • Excretion of small amounts of the live attenuated rubella virus from the nose or throat has occurred in the majority of susceptible individuals 7 to 28 days after vaccination. There is no confirmed evidence to indicate that such virus is transmitted to susceptible persons who are in contact with the vaccinated individuals. Consequently, transmission through close personal contact, while accepted as a theoretical possibility, is not regarded as a significant risk. However, transmission of the rubella vaccine virus to infants via breast milk has been documented.”
  • “There are no reports of transmission of live attenuated measles or mumps viruses from vaccinees to susceptible contacts.”
  • “It is not known whether measles or mumps vaccine virus is secreted in human milk. Recent studies have shown that lactating postpartum women immunized with live attenuated rubella vaccine may secrete the virus in breast milk and transmit it to breast-fed infants. In the infants with serological evidence of rubella infection, none exhibited severe disease; however, one exhibited mild clinical illness typical of acquired rubella.”
  • “There have been reports of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) in children who did not have a history of infection with wild-type measles but did receive measles vaccine. Some of these cases may have resulted from unrecognized measles in the first year of life or possibly from the measles vaccination.”

Can measles vaccine cause injury and death

In November 2014, the National Vaccine Information Center published a special report The Emerging Risks of Live Virus and Virus Vectored Vaccines: Vaccine Strain Virus Infection, Shedding and Transmission. 5 This report reviewed the medical literature for evidence that live virus vaccine strain infection, shedding and potential for transmission occurs, including measles vaccine strain infection and shedding.
There have been published reports of vaccine strain measles infection with clinical symptoms that are indistinguishable from wild-type measles. 6 7 There are also a few reports of measles vaccine strain virus shedding and lab confirmed infection in children following MMR vaccination. In 2002, there was a published report by researchers in France of “a child presenting with fever 8 days after vaccination with a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Measles virus was isolated in a throat swab taken 4 days after fever onset. This virus was then further genetically characterized as a vaccine-type virus.” 8
In 2010, Eurosurveillance published a report about the shedding of vaccine strain measles virus in urine and throat secretions of a Croatian child with vaccine-associated rash illness.9 A healthy 14-month old child was given MMR vaccine and eight days later developed macular rash and fever. Lab testing of throat and urine samples between two and four weeks after vaccination tested positive for vaccine strain measles virus. Authors of the report pointed out that when children experience a fever and rash after MMR vaccination, only molecular lab testing can determine whether the symptoms are due to vaccine strain measles virus infection. They stated:
“According to WHO guidelines for measles and rubella elimination, routine discrimination between aetiologies of febrile rash disease is done by virus detection. However, in a patient recently MMR-vaccinated, only molecular techniques can differentiate between wild type measles or rubella infection or vaccine-associated disease. This case report demonstrates that excretion of Schwartz measles virus occurs in vaccinees.”
In 2012, a report was also published describing a healthy 15-month old child in Canada, who developed irritability, fever, cough, conjunctivitis and rash within seven days of an MMR shot. 10 Blood, urine and throat swab tests confirmed a vaccine strain measles virus infection 12 days after vaccination. Addressing the potential for measles vaccine strain virus transmission to others, the authors stated,
“While the attenuated virus can be detected in clinical specimens following immunization, it is understood that administration of the MMR vaccine to immunocompetent individuals does not carry the risk of secondary transmission to susceptible hosts.”
There have also been 329 deaths reported to VAERS in association with the MMR vaccine. However, the numbers of vaccine-related injuries and deaths reported to VAERS may not reflect the true number of serious health problems that occur develop after MMR vaccination.Even though the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 legally required pediatricians and other vaccine providers to report serious health problems following vaccination to federal health agencies (VAERS), many doctors and other medical workers giving vaccines to children and adults fail to report vaccine-related health problem to VAERS. There is evidence that only between one and 10 percent of serious health problems that occur after use of prescription drugs or vaccines in the U.S. are ever reported to federal health officials, who are responsible for regulating the safety of drugs and vaccines and issue national vaccine policy recommendations.11,12,13,14

As of March 1, 2012, there have been 898 claims filed so far in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for 56 deaths and 842 injuries that occurred after MMR vaccination. Of that number, the U.S. Court of Claims administering the VICP has compensated 324 children and adults, who have filed MMR vaccine injury claims.15

One example of an MMR vaccine injury claim awarded compensation in the VICP is the case of Madyson Williams. Madyson was growing and developing normally until May 12, 2006, when she was given MMR, varicella zoster and Hib vaccines simultaneously during an office visit. Six days later, she developed seizures and died.

On Oct. 10, 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services conceded Madyson died from a reaction to MMR vaccine and her parents were awarded $250,000, the maximum amount allowed for an acknowledged vaccine-related death in the VICP.16,17

Even though ACIP says it’s safe to give other viral and bacterial vaccines at the same time as MMR vaccine, Merck’s MMRII product information insert states that other live virus vaccines—such as varicella18 should NOT be given at the same time as MMR vaccine but rather should be administered one month prior or one month after MMR vaccination.19
In 1998, public health officials and attorneys associated with the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program published a review in Pediatrics of the medical records of 48 children ages 10 to 49 months, who received a measles vaccine or combination MMR vaccine between 1970 and 1993 and developed encephalopathy after vaccination. The children either died or were left with permanent brain dysfunction, including mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits and movement disorders. The study authors concluded that:

“The onset of neurologic signs or symptoms occurred with a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9. No cases were identified after the administration of monovalent mumps or rubella vaccine. This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a rare complication of measles vaccination.”20

Nearly two decades earlier, in 1981, a report of the National Childhood Encephalopthy Study was published in Britain that concluded:

“The risk of a serious neurological disorder within 14 days after measles vaccine in previously normal children irrespective of eventual clinical outcome is 1 in 87,000 immunizations.”21

However, a 2007 study conducted in Britain concluded “We can estimate the vaccine-attributable risk of serious neurologic disease after the first dose of MMR vaccine as 1 in 365,000 doses.22


Some studies have shown that there is an elevated risk of aseptic meningitis connected with the MMR vaccine containing the urabe strain of mumps.23 (Merck’s MMRII vaccine used in the U.S. contains the Jeryl Lynn strain of mumps). Other studies have shown that MMR vaccine components or excipients, particularly egg antigens and porcine or bovine gelatin, can trigger anaphylactic reactions, both immediate and delayed.24

A study published in 2012 by the Cochrane Collaborative examined 57 studies and clinical trials involving about 14.7 million children who had received the MMR vaccine.25 While the study authors said they were not able to detect a “significant” association between MMR vaccine and autism, asthma, leukemia, hay fever, type I diabetes, gait disturbance, Crohn’s disease, demyelinating diseases or bacterial or viral infections, they added that:

“The design and reporting of safety outcomes in MMR vaccine studies, both pre- and post-marketing, are largely inadequate.”

In Guinea-Bissau, Dr. Peter Aaby has studied and administered vaccines to thousands of children for more than three decades and has published research on vaccine safety and effectiveness, including research on measles and measles vaccine.26 He found that there can be marked differences in the way that boys and girls respond to vaccines. For example, he found there was an increased mortality risk for girls if they received the DTP and measles vaccines together.27 He also found that fatality rates were increased for children ages 6 months to 17 months old, if they had received the DTP vaccine simultaneously with or after receiving measles vaccine.28 
In 1995, a study was published giving the first evidence of persistent measles virus infection of the intestine after vaccination.29  In 1998, an association between live virus measles vaccine, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and regressive autism was hypothesized by gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield and other physicians at Royal Free Hospital after they detected the presence of measles virus in the intestines of children suffering with Crohn’s disease and autism. The paper they published in The Lancet, which suggested MMR vaccine may be associated with development of regressive autism in previously healthy children, was immediately met with intense anger and criticism from public health officials and medical trade associations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics.30
During the course of their investigation, Wakefield and his colleagues learned that Hans Asperger had observed a high rate of gastrointestinal (celiac) disease in children diagnosed with autism. After studying children suffering with inflammatory bowel disease being treated at Royal Free Hospital, they hypothesized that persistent viral infection, either from natural measles disease or live virus measles vaccine, could cause chronic inflammation in the bowel and damage to the central nervous system in some children. However, they emphasized in their paper that they had not proven a cause and effect relationship between autism, MMR vaccine and non-specific colitis, which they described as “autistic ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia,” and called for more studies to explore the potential relationship.
Today, the majority of doctors and health officials reject the suggestion that MMR vaccine is associated with the development of autism in children. However, privately funded research continues to investigate the potential association between vaccines, including MMR vaccine, and the development of autism, inflammatory bowel disease and other kinds of brain and immune system dysfunction in previously healthy children.Other independent studies also have reported gastrointestinal problems, such as enterocolitis, after measles vaccination.31 Although in 2004, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee report stated that “the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism,”32 a 2011 report published by an IOM Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines, found that:

“The evidence convincingly supports a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and measles inclusion body encephalitis in individuals with demonstrated immunodeficiencies.”33

The 2011 IOM committee also found with “a high degree of confidence” that “the evidence convincingly supports a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and febrile seizures.” The committee also found a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and anaphylaxis and transient arthralgia in women and children.34

NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Measles and the Measles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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