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?