Are you old enough to remember the “mumps test”? That’s when your mother gives you a dill pickle and watches while you bite down on it and then scream in pain, confirming that you have indeed contracted a case of the mumps.
Yes, all these decades later, Ms. Contrarian Scientist can remember the feverish haze, the swollen chipmunk cheeks, and the sting of pain after taking a bite out of that dratted pickle.
Eight young men living together in a frat house or playing on the lacrosse team at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey never had a need for the mumps test—until now. They join another eight frat brothers at Fordham University in New York City, who contacted the disease earlier this year. And a significant outbreak of mumps is going on in and around the Ohio State University in Columbus.
Despite its silly name, the mumps is no laughing matter. The disease, which is caused by a virus and spread through saliva, can render you deaf or sterile, or even kill you. There’s good reason to fear the mumps, which is why it has long been included in that standard combination vaccine most babies receive—the term MMR stands for “measles, mumps and rubella.”
And these sick young people were all fully immunized against mumps, or they wouldn’t be allowed to attend their respective schools.
So our question today is, “What does the Scientific Method have to say about incidents like these?”
First off, it’s pretty obvious that the mumps vaccination does not prevent all people from contracting the mumps.
Beware the mind police
But you can’t just come out and say that, can you? Because the mind police will be after you like white on rice.
Alrighty then, you could safely conclude that the particular form of the mumps vaccination these young men took did not prevent them from contracting the mumps. Was there some change in the vaccination 15 or 20 years ago when these students received it that weakened its effectiveness? That’s something to look into.
Or, maybe because it’s been years since their last booster shots, the effects have worn off. Some doctors concur:
“The immunity that’s induced by the virus starts to wane. They believe that it holds until at least late teenage years, but then it starts to wane,” said Dr. Dana Saltzman, a disease specialist told NBC New York. “There’s no way to predict who’s going to lose their immunity or not.”
Works for me, but not for thee
Could it be that the vaccine just doesn’t work on everyone? Vaccines contain de-fanged versions of diseased cells that cause your body to mount an immune defense against them. The theory is that once your body has created the specific immune cells needed to fight a disease, it “remembers” what to do the next time it encounters those particular germs. But maybe not everyone has an immune system strong enough or “smart” enough to do this.
Another possibility: The vaccine just makes you less likely to get the mumps, and if you do get them, there is less risk of serious complications. But, weren’t we always told that the purpose of a vaccine is to PREVENT the disease, not just lessen the risk of complications?
Or, as one commenter on the Stevens Institute story noted, will vaccinations go down as one of the biggest con jobs in history?
A complicated puzzle
From just the arguments and counter-arguments presented in this short article, it’s easy to conclude that we (and by we, I mean scientists) don’t really understand the whole vaccine thing the way we thought we did. Questions remain—big questions.
Because, to hear public health authorities talk, we KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that VACCINES ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC and furthermore VACCINES NEVER CAUSE PROBLEMS, so SHUT UP AND TAKE YOUR SHOTS, baby.
I wonder if the nurses at the Stevens Institute clinic gave those unfortunate young men the pickle test?