In 2000, the measles virus was declared “eliminated” in the United States, but pockets of communities declining to vaccinate their children are encouraging the virus to reestablish itself and infect some of the country’s most vulnerable people.
Where the misinformation started
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield and 12 of his colleagues published a case series which suggested the MMR vaccine (which protects against measles, the mumps, and rubella) may cause autism in children. Despite the claims being repeatedly debunked, public health has continued to suffer due to the cycle of misinformation the study triggered.
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Why is measles making a comeback in the United States?
Social media is another contributing factor to the rapid spread of misinformation and vaccination hesitancy. However, the largest current contributing factor in the United States is widely considered by health professionals to be parents who decline to vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons. People who fall into these categories are often called anti-vaccination or anti-vax.
These parents are creating clusters of susceptible children and influencing the efficacy of herd immunity. Herd immunity is a public health effort in which the greater population is vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease. More specifically, this is also used to protect the health of those who are unable to receive vaccinations for legitimate medical reasons, like immunocompromising cancer treatment and infancy.
Recent outbreaks global outbreaks
While misinformation is the greatest contributing factor in affluent countries like the United States, poverty and political strife encourage the virus to spread in other parts of the world. These factors greatly affect the vaccination rates of regions that are inflicted by war or cannot afford the vaccine.
The Philippines, Ukraine, and Europe have recently seen massive outbreaks. In Madagascar, more than 66,000 people have been infected with the virus in the past six months, and as many as 900 children have died as a result.
North American outbreaks
The United States is seeing its own resurgence of the virus, with outbreaks reported in New York, Washington, Texas, Illinois, and California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 704 cases in 24 states as of April 26, 2019, breaking the previous record of 667 cases in 2014.
The New York outbreak was triggered within a non-vaccinating Orthodox Jewish community when an unvaccinated child was infected during a family trip to Israel. A similar outbreak happened in 2015 and infected 147 children when an infected child from a non-vaccinating community in Quebec spread the virus on a trip to Disneyland. The same outbreak also infected 159 children in Quebec.
From the Department of Health and Human Services
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, said, “Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not in our emergency rooms.”
“Some years ago there was a debate about this issue that was partly fueled by data that has since been discredited,” he said. “The scientific community has generated new and definitive information, and we can definitely reassure every parent there is no link between autism and vaccination.”
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