WITH ALL the lurking unknowns concerning infectious disease — including the brain-damaging Zika virus, the paralyzing acute flaccid myelitis, and the deadly Ebola virus — why would anyone leave themselves or their family vulnerable to an illness for which there is a known, proven and safe vaccine? Why endanger others? These are the urgent questions that must be raised in the wake of yet another needless outbreak of measles, this one in Clark County, Wash.
The county’s public health department reported 30 confirmed cases this week — and 20 of them are people who had not been immunized. Twenty-one of the cases are children under 10 years old, and eight were between 11 and 18 years old.
Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus; it can lead to serious complications — especially in children — including pneumonia, encephalitis and death. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and can linger in the air for up to two hours. Clark County’s largest city is Vancouver, just north of Portland, Ore. According to the public health department, infected people may have exposed others in schools, churches, stores, food outlets, emergency rooms, an airport and a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game. The county warned residents, “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”
Measles was eliminated in the United States by 2000 with extensive use of the vaccine. But in recent years, pockets of the exposed and vulnerable have appeared, in part because of distrust of vaccines. In 2016, 18 states granted nonmedical exemptions to vaccination based on religious or philosophical beliefs. Research has disproved the fears of a link between vaccination and autism, but ignorance and distrust are still causing people to forgo immunization. The anti-vaccination movement stirs these irrational fears and condemns people, mostly children, to unnecessary suffering.
Recently, outbreaks have occurred in New York and New Jersey, primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreaks also originated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring. Also according to the CDC, 81 people brought measles to the United States from other countries last year, the greatest number of imported cases since elimination was declared in 2000. Overall, 349 individual cases of measles were confirmed last year in 26 states and the District of Columbia, the second-highest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated. The year with the most reported U.S. cases was 2014, with 667.
The World Health Organization reports a continued surge of measles in its European region, where data suggests the total number of infections will be double that of 2017. The WHO put “vaccine hesitancy” among 10 global health threats for this year.
It cannot be said loudly enough: The vaccine is safe and effective. Measles can be prevented. There is no excuse for this revival.