Don’t Be Fooled – Tackling Measles by Way of Prevention
Eight months ago to the day, I wrote about the danger of measles reemerging in the United States. That possibility became headlines when nearly 125 individuals were identified as having contracted measles while visiting Disney theme parks in Southern California during a 43-day period starting just before New Year’s Eve. They, in turn, carried the disease within California, to seven other states, and to Canada and Mexico.
The sudden spread of this highly contagious disease has sparked somewhat of a low-key debate about the rights of individuals to refuse vaccination and of parents to decline to have their children immunized. Unfortunately, this debate has been driven in large part by half-truths and misconceptions.
Declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, measles continues to be endemic in many other areas of the world. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 145,700 people died of measles in 2013. There were 644 reported cases of measles in the United States in 2014. The death rate in the U.S. is extremely low; for example, 2009 and 2010 each saw two fatalities from measles (roughly 1 percent of those infected). This is in large part due to advanced treatment capabilities for serious cases.
This is not to say that a case of measles may not be serious. Over the past decade, more than one in four children younger than 5 years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital. Pediatric measles has been known to lead to pneumonia, lifelong brain damage and deafness.
An Internet search produces a maddening mix of arcane statistics. Among the most recent are that no one has died of measles in the United States for the past ten years (not true) and that more than 100 have died of the measles vaccine (not demonstrated). There is also a peculiar line of reasoning that because the numbers are very low, it is not an issue. By way of comparison, “only” 10 unvaccinated children died of pertussis in California last year. Not a big deal statistically; but a terrible tragedy for those ten families.
The fact remains that vaccination has prevented many more illnesses and deaths than it has caused. You may arguably have the right to risk the life and health of your own children over concerns for trace amounts of additives or as a result of specious claims linking vaccines to autism or other conditions. Refusing immunization, however, also potentially exposes other children who cannot be vaccinated, organ transplant recipients, those receiving chemotherapy, pregnant women and those with HIV/AIDS infections or other autoimmune conditions. That is no one’s right.