Of all the things to be nostalgic for, infectious diseases probably don’t make it onto many lists.
However, if you happen to pine for the good old days when measles was an active public health threat, I have good news for you. The anti-vaccine crowd is bringing it back.
There is currently an outbreak of measles in New York City. Considered eliminated in the United States in 2000, last year saw a record number of outbreaks around the country. It’s only three months into 2014, and not only is the nation’s largest city seeing cases in several boroughs, but other major metropolitan areas are warning of new cases as well.
This is not some inconvenience to be laughed off. Measles is a highly-contagious illness caused by a virus. It usually presents with a combination of rash, fevers, cough and runny nose, as well as characteristic spots in the mouth. Most patients recover after an unpleasant but relatively uneventful period of sickness. Unfortunately, about one patient in every 1,000 develops inflammation of the brain, and one to three cases per 1000 in the United States result in death.
Reports from New York note that several people have been hospitalized, and infected patients include infants too young to be vaccinated themselves. Because the American public hasn’t needed to worry much about this once-contained threat in quite some time, most people probably don’t know that measles can kill, or leave children permanently disabled.
We vaccinate people for a reason.
It is because I never want patients in my office to contract vaccine-preventable illnesses (like at least two unlucky people in the New York City outbreak, who got the disease from visiting their own doctors) that patients whose parents refuse to vaccinate them are not welcome in my practice. I cannot entirely eliminate the potential for disease exposure between children who come to see me, but I can do my best to mitigate it. I never want to know that a child was sickened or killed because I let the recklessness of a vaccine-refusing parent jeopardize their health.
But now, shoppers in Boston-area supermarkets get to worry that they may have been exposed when they stopped by for groceries. Commuters in the Bay Area now have to contend with the possibility that they or their children may contract the illness because they happened to get on the wrong train. Over a dozen people around Los Angeles have been diagnosed with measles already this year, nearly half of them intentionally unvaccinated.
This is sheer lunacy. Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing.
There is no legitimate scientific controversy about whether or not vaccines are safe. The original study that started us down this insane path by linking the MMR vaccine to autism has been retracted outright. The evidence against administering the MMR vaccine to healthy individuals is utterly without merit.
But people continue to make the utterly baffling choice to refuse it anyway. Dispiriting new information seems to indicate that they are immune to persuasion when confronted with facts inconvenient to their worldview. Indeed, writers at prominent online media outlets chide us for “demeaning” vaccine-deniers, saying to do so “defies explanation.”
The explanation is simple, and is as accessible as the nightly news. Vaccine-deniers are responsible to the resurgence of once-eliminated illnesses. Their movement is responsible for sickening people. They are to blame for the word “outbreak” appearing in headlines from coast to coast.
The anti-vaccine crowd may think they’re only making a decision for their own family. In fact, they’re threatening to make the rest of us sick. Refusing to vaccinate your children means you are contributing to a worsening public health crisis. There is no denying it, and there is no point in sugar-coating it.
I hope the anti-vaccine movement somehow loses steam. Perhaps America will take note of the return of long-gone illnesses and will stop treating vaccine denialism as a viewpoint worth considering. Perhaps vaccine-refusing parents will consider whether it’s worth the anxiety of knowing that a person who coughed in their grocery store two hours earlier could infect their kids as they do the week’s shopping together, and will reconsider their choices.
There is no good reason for there to be a measles outbreak in New York. Or Boston. Or LA. But there they are. If you missed measles and are glad it’s back, thank a vaccine-denier.