In the dawn of the 21st century, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) declared that measles had been eliminated from the United States. This meant that there were no cases of measles transmitted by patients within the US. All measles cases were “imported” from infected non-US patients.
This was amazing news made possible by the 97% effective MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. It was a triumphant medical achievement and a true testament to the power of science and research.
This was 19 years ago.
This year, the CDC announced 695 reported cases from measles in April 2019. In four short months, it was already the highest number of measles cases in the United States since its eradication in 2000. And those are just the ones reported; the true number is likely much higher.
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the rubeola virus. It is so contagious that 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people will get measles if they are near an infected person. Before the existence of the measles vaccine, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years old and there were 2.6 million deaths annually. After the development of the MMR vaccine by Maurice Hilleman in 1963 and its subsequent widespread use, the measles-related death rate dropped to 110,000 deaths annually in 2017.
It is almost embarrassing that in the year 2019, there are so many people infected by measles. Measles! A disease that should have been non-existent by now - especially in countries that are supposed to be highly developed like the United States - but isn’t.
So how did the modern anti-vaccination movement begin?
In 1998, a research paper was released that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine, autism, and bowel disease. In 2011, the paper was found to be fraudulent, but the damage was done. The public’s opinion of the MMR vaccine became of distrust, amplified by celebrity anti-vaccine activists.
Despite the researcher being stripped of his medical license for his fraudulent paper and the countless number of researchers unable to reproduce any credible link between the MMR vaccine, autism, and bowel disease, it was too late. The misconception that the MMR vaccine caused autism added fuel to the fire of the anti-vaccination movement and the reemergence of previously controlled diseases.
Unfortunately, the fearmongering has led to a growing number of US states allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children in public schools. The situation has become so dire that some teenagers are getting vaccinated without their parents' permission because they realize the importance of immunization.
I find it worrying that children are being put at risk of catching easily preventable deadly diseases due to fear of them being autistic. It is a disconcerting thought, even though it has been proven time and again that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. Having autism isn’t a death sentence, but getting sick from measles could be. Destigmatizing autism and other mental disorders would be a step in the right direction in promoting the use of vaccines, regardless of its redundancy.
Another piece of information that people either don’t know about or choose to not believe is that herd immunity is a big deal. Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of a population is vaccinated from an infectious disease, therefore protecting individuals who are not immune. Vaccines need herd immunity in order to work effectively. This is crucial as some people simply cannot get vaccinated against certain diseases because of restrictions due to age, health conditions, etc. Infants, pregnant women, and people with poor nutrition and weakened immune systems cannot get vaccinated for their own safety. It is our responsibility as a community to ensure that we do not put their lives at risk unnecessarily. We are morally obligated to protect the people who can’t protect themselves.
To justify and spread the toxic message of anti-vaccination is extremely dangerous to society, causing a greater health crisis than we have currently. It is always good to have a healthy dose of skepticism, but when there is so much evidence that vaccines are safe, we shouldn't think that we are being peddled lies by the government.
The growing anti-vaccination rhetoric is putting us at risk from deadly diseases that should have been eradicated completely in this day and age. The MMR vaccine was a marvel of modern medicine and administered carefully to hundreds of millions of people. Measles is a dangerous illness, but we can avoid it. No one should have to suffer from a disease that vaccines could safely prevent.