U.S. Measles Cases Hit Another High

Measles cases in the United States are surging thanks to the lies spread by the anti-vaccination movement.

Thanks in large part to the fact that false concerns about the safety of vaccines continue to circulate, measles cases in the United States are hitting a new high after years in which it appeared that the disease had largely been eradicated:

The US has counted more measles cases in the first two months of this year than in all of 2017, with public health officials blaming “misinformation” for the growing epidemic.

Six outbreaks of the disease have been reported across the country since January 1, totaling 159 cases, in the states of Washington, Colorado and New York.

Since 2000, between 50 or several hundred cases have been reported a year, even though the highly contagious disease was declared eradicated at the start of the century.

Public health officials who were summoned to the US Congress this week to confront the growing threat said one of the largest challenges was the proliferation of conspiracy theories surrounding the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Misinformation is an important problem,” Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told the hearing.

“The spread of misinformation that leads people to make poor choices, despite their well-meaning, is a major contributor to the problem we’re discussing.”

The subject has triggered a furious debate in the US, with a rising anti-vaccination movement gripping the country. An audience of both pro and anti-vaccination groups filled this week’s hearing in the US Capitol, which was paused twice because of the interruptions from members of the public.

Deep divisions on the issue have also emerged between politicians in a number of states where outbreaks have occurred.

Officials in some states have responded to the epidemic by suggesting tougher rules prohibiting parents from opting out of getting their children vaccinated.

The proposals have been met with fury in some quarters. A Republican state representative in Arizona likened the ideas to communism, arguing that a crack down on vaccine exemptions was giving up “the very sovereignty of our body, because of measles”.

“I read yesterday that the idea is being floated that if not enough people get vaccinated, then we are going to force them to,” Kelly Townsend wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “The idea that we force someone to give up their liberty for the sake of the collective is not based on American values but rather, Communist.”

Meanwhile in Texas, where there have been eight reported cases this year, a Republican state representative suggested he is unconcerned about the epidemic because antibiotics can treat the virus.

Bill Zedler told the Texas Observer that he had measles as a child, before a vaccine for it was developed. “They want to say people are dying of measles,” he told the paper. “Yeah, in third-world countries they’re dying of measles. Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”

Antibiotics, which are used to treat bacterial infections, are not effective against viruses.

One area in particular, Clark County, in Washington state has illustrated the potential dangers of vaccine exemptions.

The area accounts for 65 measles of the cases nationally, 47 of them among children under the age of ten. In almost all 65 cases, patients had not been vaccinated.

This is just one of many reports that we’ve seen recently about the reemergence of measles around the world, and most notably in the United States and Europe where vaccination programs had brought many nations to the point where authorities were getting ready to declare the disease eradicated in their country.  Last year, for example, we learned that measles cases were raging in many parts of Europe where the disease had previously believed to have been nearly eradicated. It also raises the prospect that a more widespread reemergence of the disease here in the United States cannot easily be dismissed notwithstanding the fact that the disease was officially declared eradicated in the United States in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control. Indeed, there have already been signs that this could be happening already. In 2013, for example, it was reported that the number of measles cases in the United States had hit a 17-year high. A year later, the number of cases was continuing to rise, hitting a 20-year-high by the summer of 2014. Then, in the summer of 2015, the United States recorded its first death as a result of measles in more than a decade.  Finally, late last year it was reported that measles cases had surged worldwide in 2017, the most recent year for which there is complete data. Here in the United State, while we have not reached the point that Europe is at regarding the reemergence of a disease once thought eradicated, it’s still fairly clear that measles, as well as a number of other childhood illnesses that had become increasingly rare thanks to vaccination, such as rubella and Whopping Cough, have made a comeback.

As the report above indicates, one of the main reasons that measles and other diseases are making a comeback is the fact that the anti-vaccination movement continues to have an impact on the decisions that parents are making for their children notwithstanding the fact that all of the arguments put forward by that movement have been debunked. While there’s always been a fringe crowd of people who questioned the value of vaccines, objected to them for religious reasons, or objected to them because of misinformation and lies that have spread on the Internet faster than they can be debunked by actual medical professionals. To a large degree, of course, it started with the now discredited theory regarding a link between childhood vaccines and autism. This claim traces its origins back to a paper that was published in 1998 in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. That report’s principal author, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine which is commonly given as part of the regular childhood vaccination schedule and is intended to vaccinate against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. While public health officials and experts, drug companies, and many epidemiologists pushed back on that report, for the better part of a decade it stood relatively unchallenged as the definitive word on the issue and quite obviously helped to feed parent’s fears. Wakefield’s study led to anti-vaccination movements that were made popular by celebrities in the United States and elsewhere, as well as by medical cranks eager to hitch their stars to anything halfway credible. Slowly but surely, though, Wakefield’s study came to be questioned by the medical community as a whole and, in 2010, Lancet eventually formally withdrew the report. Roughly a year later, it was revealed that the original study that formed the basis for the report was fraudulent. Most importantly, in the entire 17 year period since Wakefield’s study, no other researcher has ever been able to duplicate his purported results or to find any statistically significant correlation between autism and childhood vaccinations. In 2015, a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association definitively found no evidence of a link between autism and childhood vaccination. This conclusion was verified recently by another study that found no discernable link between vaccines and autism.  Despite all of this, the anti-vaccination movement, like many other ideas that are spread on the Internet, continues to exist and it continues to have an impact on public health. Despite this, the damage was done.

The fact that the claims of a link between vaccination and autism had been debunked, though, has not prevented the myth from continuing to spread. In no small part, the continued spread of these dangerous lies can be laid at the feet of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, and more recently The Big Bang Theory’s Miyam Bialik and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. Even Donald Trump got into the act before becoming a candidate for President, using his Twitter account to spread the myths of the anti-vaccine movement. and it is apparently something he still believes. The platform that celebrity gives people like this, along with how easy it is to share “information” that isn’t necessarily true via Email, Twitter, Facebook and the light makes combating anti-vaccine propaganda difficult at times, especially when you run up against parents who truly seem to believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests by refusing to have them vaccinated.

It’s in this context that this resurgence in measles cases is taking place. What is both remarkable and frustrating is the fact that so many people can be so ignorant in an age when our knowledge of science and medicine is so much more advanced than it was when vaccination first became widespread. Back then, people were grateful for something that could save their children from the scourge of deadly or debilitating diseases. Today, we actually have people rejecting vaccination based on something a brainless celebrity said. This is progress?

FILED UNDER: Health, Science & Technology, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    This is worth saying every time. There is a cost of having your kid walking around with a deadly virus coursing through their body, contaminating everyone they come in contact with and every room they enter. And that cost manifests for many, many years. During the measles outbreak of the early 60’s not only did thousands of children and elderly and other immune compromised people die outright, tens of thousands of women who came in contact with the virus had babies that were born deaf, blind, developmentally disabled or otherwise physically handicapped.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    I hav e to link to Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice. Her subject is Rand Paul, “Son of Doctor Crazy Liberty, MD”, who recently made a statement supporting the rights of anti-vaxxers while admitting he and his kids are vaccinated. Betty opens with,

    Remember when we used to implore President Obama to use reverse-psychology and warn people that drinking Drano is bad so that the dumb fucks among us would off themselves in a fit of “NO [CLANG] IS GONNA TELL ME WUT TA DRANK”?

    And closes with,

    But if Republicans want to start eschewing post-18th century medicine as a tribal marker, who are we to stop them? We’ll just have to develop a vaccine against contagious stupidity.

    In between she pretty much tears Little Randy a well deserved new one.

    I’m not going to trust the little …. to vote for the wall emergency resolution until the vote is certified.

  3. KM says:

    This is a *deeply* personal issue to me. I’m one of the few unfortunate souls on whom the MMR didn’t full take – despite getting the shot over 5 times, I’m not immune. Measles is a very real threat to my health and life. I also have immuno-suppressed family (recently got a lung transplant) for whom measles would also be a death sentence.

    This isn’t a free speech thing for me. It’s not just some moron denying science in favor of what the latest air-headed celebrity said. These people can KILL me with their stupidity. They are directly threatening me and mine and I shouldn’t have to take that.

    Why are we allowing a small subgroup to threaten the health and safety of American citizens like this? Why should the elderly, children, the sick and those like me fear when we don’t have to? Why do we allow parents to reckless endanger their children’s lives because they’d rather believe a conspiracy theory? Why do we allow citizens to be potentially maimed for life because their parents were so damn intolerant they’d rather a dead child then an autistic one?

    If someone went around convincing parents denying your children liquids of any kind made your kids into geniuses and managed to get a following, we’d be locking up folks left and right for child abuse. We wouldn’t accept it as a “different opinion” when they’d claim water was optional for life – a clear, easily disprovable lie. We wouldn’t grant wavers for that behavior. We wouldn’t be discussing if it was a 1A violation to deplatform these nuts and if it was a “slippery slope” to not discuss both sides. So why the hell are we tolerating these nuts while they bring back plagues we’ve conquered? Are we gonnna wait till polio and TB has a mass-resurgence before somebody finally decides enough is enough?

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  4. grumpy realist says:

    I’d give these idiots three choices: vaccination. Or get exposed to the illness and make sure your little darling catches it. Or physical quarantine during any flare-up.

  5. Kathy says:

    You have a right to risk your life, in any way you want, as often as you want, any time you want. It’s your right and no one else’s business, at least legally.

    You don’t have a right to risk someone else’s life. That’s why we don’t allow drunk driving, why we are informed of risks in ordinary activities like driving or flying, and many other restrictions. And that is why we can demand people be vaccinated, unless there is a medical reason not to (like allergies to the vaccine components, for example).

  6. Kathy says:

    Bill Zedler told the Texas Observer that he had measles as a child, before a vaccine for it was developed. “They want to say people are dying of measles,” he told the paper. “Yeah, in third-world countries they’re dying of measles. Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”

    Slur aside, this is another big medical issue today. The overuse of antibiotics is helping dangerous bacteria adapt to them. My father died of an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection. every time I hear some idiot say “take an antibiotic” for things like the common cold, the flu, or other viral infections, I want to tell them I’d rather not die of resistant pneumonia.

    To be fair, one major misuse of antibiotics is in meat farming. Chickens, cows, and other animals are fed massive doses of antibiotics. I’m not clear on the science involved, but it lets them grow bulkier faster (probably something to do with gut bacteria).

    There are three, or possibly four, major infectious agents: bacteria, viruses, parasites, and possibly prions (infectious proteins, some are blamed for mad cow disease). Antibiotics work only against bacteria. they don’t affect viruses or parasites at all, and certainly not prions.

    Bacteria don’t breed, they divide (mitosis). but they can, and do, exchange genetic material through something called plasmids (bits of DNA separate from chromosomal DNA), even between different species.

    So your symbiotic gut bacteria might become resistant to the antibiotic you take when you have the common cold, and then helpfully pass a plasmid to infectious bacteria. Remember you excrete gut bacteria all the time, which then go to spread in the environment (and can wind up in other people or animals).

    It’s dangerous and irresponsible to promote misuse of antibiotics.

  7. Mister Bluster says:

    Is there any way the spam grabber can at least allow me to review what I’ve posted to see what rules I have violated?
    I know that sometimes I have misspelled my name or eMail address which I could correct if given the chance. Reducing the workload on the moderators.
    GB

  8. Kathy says:

    BTW, may so-called childhood diseases do not kill most children who contract them. But the reason they’re called “childhood diseases” is that most people get them, and survive them, in childhood. Children’s immune systems are different from adult immune systems.

    When an adult gets such diseases, especially if they have not been vaccinated, they run a far higher risk of death. Often even getting a diagnosis is difficult, because doctors are not used to seeing them in adults, and some diseases manifest differently in adults than in children.

  9. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’m not going to trust the little …. to vote for the wall emergency resolution until the vote is certified.

    Well, certainly. But then again, trusting Rand Paul to keep his word would just be stupid.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:
  11. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: That’s a gross over simplification. We regulate lots of activities that would only harm willing participants (drug use, dwarf tossing, suicide), and allow all sorts of activities that create a risk for others (driving, for instance, or carrying a gun).

    There are risks that we, as a society, tolerate (and try to minimize), and we balance freedoms against that.

    I’m uncomfortable with the state compelling people to have a medical procedure — whether as simple as vaccination, or as complicated and risky as carrying a child to term and giving birth.

    I think the antivaxxers are idiots, but unless we have a health emergency I think we should be wary of the government making mandatory medical decisions for people.

    I don’t think we are at the point of a health emergency, but I could be persuaded. And even then, quarantine should be an option. We have two Dakotas, we don’t need them both. Put up fencing on one, and stick the antivaxxers there.

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  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    *heavy sigh*…

    I miss living in a first-world country.

  13. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t disagree entirely. although interment strikes me as excessive, compared to mandatory vaccination.

    One thing the drug companies and the skeptical community (who try to educate the pubic and constantly debunk anti-scientific notions like the anti-vaccine idiocy), have failed to do is talk frankly about the real risks of vaccines.

    I get my knowledge of science mostly through reading popularizations in the specialized media, plus a few books here and there. I don’t know what the real risks of vaccines are, though I know they are very small.

    Oh, I know some vaccines are made using chicken embryos, still in their eggs, and people allergic to eggs shouldn’t take those vaccines. And of course there’s no risk for autism.

    But there is a fund that pays out settlements from vaccine-related damages. this is not surprising. Vaccines, like other medications, have side effects.

    I think an open, frank discussion about it would help some people on the fence to decide to vaccinate their children.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I’m not clear on the science involved, but [massive antibiotic use in livestock] lets them grow bulkier faster (probably something to do with gut bacteria).

    It’s worse than that.

    Cattle are adapted to eat grass. If you feed them on a diet of foods they are not adapted to, they get sick. Corn-fed beef (propping up both the corn farmers and the cattle industry) is unnatural, and cows fed on that diet — especially in crowded feedlots — are prone to all kinds of illnesses, especially bacterial infections. Large doses of antibiotics counter those infections. If the cows were fed grass, and were allowed to range, they wouldn’t need the antibiotics and the antibiotics would not help them in any way.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: the fund was set up mainly in order to cut down on the legal wrangling on both sides. Anything that happens after a vaccination that might be vaccination-related can be the trigger for a payout even if it hasn’t been proved to be related–so there’s an assumed hic propter hoc legal fallacy that no one bothers about.

  16. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Thank you. that is much worse.

  17. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I get that, but there are risks to all medications, even when they are tiny. When you have large numbers of people taking a medication, as is the case for vaccines, there will be some adverse effects.

    It would be good if these were generally known and quantified.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: What I’m reinforcing is that you can’t get the statistics from the numbers of people who get payouts from the Vaccination Fund. And too many people are hysterical about vaccinations and insist that ANYTHING that happens after getting a vaccine is due to the vaccine. Not. True.

    We probably already have the statistics available via doctors and health agencies. The problem is that the anti-vaxxers don’t believe the data and never will.

    Let’s set aside half of Kansas or another not-very populated state. Swap the populace out with all those who refuse to get vaccines. Provide the anti-vaxxers with sufficient organic food, houses oriented correctly to balance their chakras, magical healing crystals and all the other woo-woo they insist upon. Then let loose all the diseases they insist they don’t have to worry about because of the “purity” of their little darlings. And send video drones over to televise everything that happens. Maybe seeing a baby turn blue and die because she isn’t able to breathe and someone’s son die due to lockjaw will be enough of a wake-up call to these idiots.

  19. Teve says:

    Provide the anti-vaxxers with sufficient organic food, houses oriented correctly to balance their chakras, magical healing crystals and all the other woo-woo they insist upon.

    …and Joel Osteen books and Fox News channels etc.

    anti-vaxxers are neither predominantly liberal nor conservative.

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @Teve: Yah they’re nuts on both sides. The ones I’ve run into have been California woo-woo types, but then I live in a liberal area and frequent liberal blogs. I suspect that if you were living in a conservative area and frequent conservative blogs you’d run into the conservative anti-vaxxers.

    In either case, they are more interested in their own egos than in truth. Which is why I’m perfectly happy for both sets to keel over and die before their little walking germ bombs infect anyone else.

  21. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What I’m reinforcing is that you can’t get the statistics from the numbers of people who get payouts from the Vaccination Fund.

    Oh, agreed. I brought it up to illustrate there are some real side effects with bad outcomes to vaccines.

  22. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: all my hillbilly Kentucky relatives are nutjobs. They got into talk radio in the 90s and wound up going down crazy Alex Jones rabbit holes where anything that is said by the government or Harvard medical School or the CDC or whatever is automatically a false flag and a lie and etcetera. the flu vaccine is really the flu, so you get sick, so the doctors all make money, etc etc etc.

    25 years ago as a teenager I would argue with them, but they wound up teaching me a valuable lesson.

    Dumb don’t give a SHIT about your stupid liberal facts.