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The Vaccination Vexation Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Culture, science

The US Center for Disease Control has announced that measles, one of the most contagious diseases in the world, is at a twenty-five-year high. It is this nation’s highest total since 1994, with eight full months to go in the year. Today, as I write this, a cruise ship has been quarantined because of an outbreak, so the number of known cases will surely top 700 before the end of the first full week of this month.

Image courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

700 seems like a tiny number compared to a total population of 328 million, but the disease had been declared eradicated in 1999 and its communicable properties means that it can multiply rapidly. More importantly, signs of symptoms take over 10 days to materialize. This means that people infected will have nearly two weeks to spread measles before they know that they have it.

Measles symptoms include a rash over the entire body, fever, a runny nose, and a persistent cough. In some cases, particularly for the very young, it can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis, a serious swelling of the brain. These conditions may lead to death or permanent brain damage. Before the vaccination program began in 1963, millions of people were infected every year. Tens of thousands required hospitalization, and 400 – 500 died annually. It’s serious stuff.

The rise in these cases can be attributed to misinformation spread across social media. In particular, there are false reports that the vaccination against measles (and mumps and rubella) causes autism. Parents who research this topic will find multiple stories, sworn to be true, of children developing autism because of a single shot in the arm. There are also tales of the vaccines containing high doses of mercury. Some have even claimed that getting measles will prevent cancer! These stories are all anecdotal and, despite rigorous investigation by multiple news organizations, none have been found to be true. Scientific research has thoroughly debunked the allegations. It simply isn’t true.

Typically, more widespread cases in the US are found in religious communities. The Amish in Ohio and Orthodox Jews in some parts of New York have had multiple outbreaks. The aforementioned cruise ship is owned by the Church of Scientology. Earlier this year, a teenaged boy famously defied his parents and got immunized. Most states allow children over 18 to be vaccinated without parental permission. Some states are considering lowering that age limit.

But anti-vaxxers, as they are known, can be found anywhere. Many consider it to be a private decision which is their civil right to make. The anti-vaxxer movement is largely driven by anti-government, anti-establishment sentiments. They see conspiracies everywhere. I fully expect to see them attack this post.

Still, some measles cases have been attributed to international influences. There has been a terrible measles pandemic in South Sudan during the war there. Because of the heat, the vaccine can’t stay cool enough to be effective. The health crisis in Venezuela has made getting immunization shots very difficult. It’s likely that someone from that country is responsible for college students in California recently being quarantined.

For those of us who have been fully immunized against measles, there isn’t much of a concern. Exposure to measles may make us only slightly ill. But, once exposed, we can’t take the chance of infecting others. We’ll have to stay home. This will impact work productivity and the nation’s economy. And, for a small percentage of inoculated citizens, it’s still possible to get the disease.

More importantly, anti-vaxxers are against many if not all vaccinations. Today the problem is measles, but in the future, we should expect chickenpox, rubella, and bacterial meningitis to return. All of those diseases are preventable with a vaccination.

Have you been vaccinated?

Vocab

  • Contagious – spread from one person or organism to another by direct or indirect contact
  • Quarantined – isolated from others
  • Communicable – something which can be spread from one person to another
  • Autism – a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior
  • Anecdotal – based on personal accounts rather than facts or research
  • Anti-vaxxer – someone opposed to vaccinations who spreads their theories to others
  • Pandemic – a disease found in all parts of a country

 

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