In a time when most childhood diseases are preventable, why are there still outbreaks of an illness that was eradicated in the United States in 2000? In January, an outbreak of measles began spreading through a few counties outside of Portland, Oregon, where there is a known population of families who have chosen not to vaccinate their children.
Measles is a viral illness easily spread through the air, especially among children. Early symptoms can look like the common cold – runny nose, sneezing, coughing and red eyes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, red dots appear on the skin a few days after the virus has had time to incubate within the body. At that point, it is crucial to seek medical treatment before the illness turns fatal.
If we can prevent children from contracting such a vigorous illness, why are we allowing it to inflict harm once again?
Measles outbreaks have occurred more frequently in the past few years than in the past few decades. In 2015, an outbreak began at Disney Land in California after an ill visitor spread the virus to many children at the amusement park. The Disney Land outbreak resulted in 147 cases spread throughout the U.S. In 2018, the U.S. experienced 372 cases of reported measles. Most of these cases were reported in New York state, New York City, and New Jersey where there are large unvaccinated populations. This means the Portland area outbreak is just one of many, and I fear the trend is not near its end.
A growing number of parents are choosing to opt out of infant and childhood vaccinations afraid of what the side effects could do to their children. This trend began after an English scientist, Andrew Wakefield, published a paper falsely accusing the MMR vaccine of causing autism. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella; all of which are deadly childhood diseases, historically. Although Wakefield’s findings have been proven false and he lost his medical licenses, parents still choose to believe this one study instead of the overwhelming number of studies that have since found zero links between the MMR vaccine and autism.
These parents do not realize they are putting not only their own children at risk when they make the decision to not vaccinate. Each year, while most babies will go through the three- to four-year process of acquiring all of their childhood vaccinations, others will not due to allergies or already compromised immune systems. To protect those babies who are either too young or cannot be vaccinated, it is up to society to maintain its herd immunity.
Herd immunity is the collective immunity a community shares when 95 percent of its members are up-to-date on vaccinations. This high level of immunity makes it virtually impossible for illnesses to spread. When herd immunity rates dip below 90 percent of the community, there is a chance for an outbreak to spread quickly.
A decreased herd immunity caused by parents choosing to not vaccinate their children is believed to be the cause for the outbreaks at Disney Land, New York, and now, Portland.
There comes a time when we, as knowledgeable citizens, need to take a step back to look at how our personal decisions are affecting those around us. When a decision creates a health issue for someone else, then that decision is no longer personal.
Choosing to vaccinate your children is not a personal decision. Childhood vaccinations are necessary to protect everyone in our community.