Today, 15 years after declaring the measles disease eradicated, the U.S. is experiencing a new outbreak.
Much of the current outbreak can be traced back to Disneyland in California, though more specifically to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. They have bought into a conspiracy theory that vaccines cause disease such as autism. Despite the fact that the only paper linking autism to vaccination was written in 1998 by a British researcher named Andrew Wakefield who has since been found guilty of faking his results and is now barred from practicing medicine in the U.K., the anti-vaccination movement prevails.
Much of the anti-vaccination movement’s current popularity stems from statements made by television talk show celebrity Jenny McCarthy, whose treatments for her own autistic son include hyperbaric oxygen chambers and rubbing spoons all over his body.
Despite widespread criticism from the scientific and medical communities, rates of vaccination continue to drop and diseases like measles and mumps are starting to reappear. Worst of all, misguided parents are putting more than their own children at risk. When their children become sick, the risk of spreading the disease to children who are too young to be vaccinated, or who can’t be vaccinated for other medical reasons such as cancer, increases.
In the past, those who couldn’t be vaccinated were protected by herd immunity – the idea that if a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, then those who aren’t are protected by the fact that diseases can’t spread when the majority of the public is immune.
NPR recently reported on Rhett Krawitt, a six year old diagnosed with Leukemia, who can’t be vaccinated due to a compromised immune system from years of chemotherapy. For children with dangerously compromised immune systems such as Krawitt, any case of measles can be deadly.
Measles isn’t a minor illness like a cold – it kills.There were 145,700 measles deaths globally in 2013, according to the World Health Organization. If the current trend of rising measles cases in America continues, it is inevitable we are going to start seeing fatal cases here as well.
A first world country with a modern health care system like America backsliding like this represents the worst kind of willful ignorance.
Woe to us if vaccination ever becomes fully politicized in the same way as the general Republican denial of the reality of global warming, another scenario of willful scientific ignorance. This may be happening already. Recently, GOP Senator Rand Paul stated in an interview, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” despite having no evidence to back up such claims. Whether Rand Paul actually believes this is questionable because he quickly backpedaled on this claim over the next several days. What is frightening, however, is how conveniently voluntary vaccination fits into Paul’s Libertarian platform and how easily it may fit into other anti-government platforms as well. The more influential spokesmen the anti-vaccination movement gets, the more difficult it will be to win the public opinion war and the young are going to suffer for it.