Disneyland. It began there. Well, not really, but it is a good place to begin. What was supposed to be the “happiest place on Earth” was the breeding ground for a national debate on Vaccines. This has been long coming. Anti-vaccination movements have been around for awhile, but over the past five years have grown rapidly. Social media has given the movement a voice, one they are fully able to shout across the landscape. “Vaccines cause Autism!” is their core belief. There is no debate; there is no compromise. It is the truth, and to doubt, makes you a danger.
From my tone, you can guess my opinion. My personal (and professional) belief is that Vaccines are safe the grand majority. Most who become vaccinated are fine. This is documented. This is science. However, are vaccines 100% safe? No, but nothing is. Could someone get an allergic reaction from a vaccine? Why not? Everyone’s body chemistry is different. Everyone’s brain chemistry is also unique. Some will get an allergic reaction. Could this lead to autism in some? Yes, it could, if one has a genetic predisposition for it. Does this mean Vaccines = Autism? No.
Twitter is a massive platform for the anti-vaccination movement. I follow around 750 people; most are involved in Autism in some form. I would guess half of them believe Autism is caused by vaccines (Note: this is my opinion and not a scientific fact). I have been called a liar, murder, government plant, and been told I am part of the national conspiracy because I do not believe Autism is caused by vaccines. One kind soul suggested I shove my clipboard up my backside, which is interesting as I am not a doctor, and do not use a clipboard, but that is beside the point. The point is, social media, especially Twitter, is a voice for this movement, and it is working. Because it is working, we now are witnessing the possible birth of an outbreak that was preventable.
What is Measles?
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a viral infection. It is airborne and spreads from coughing and sneezing. Most common signs begin with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. A rash forms that often covers the body with small red dots. Sounds annoying, but not dangerous right? Well, for most that is about it. The CDC says 3 out of 10 will develop complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea.
Again, besides pneumonia, does not sound too dangerous. How about encephalitis? Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) is very serious and often leads to mental retardation and even death. Encephalitis affects every 1 out of 1000 children. Yes, children are the main group affected by measles, all though adults are affected to a lesser extent.
Measles also affects women who are pregnant. Premature birth is a risk. As someone who was born premature, I can tell you my life has been difficult. I was ill for the first 10 years of life with respiratory problems, as when a baby is born premature, their immune system is not fully developed, and it took me years to adjust. Do not ignore this.
The CDC estimates every 1 out of 1000 children who gets measles dies. So basically if your child gets measles, the chances of death are .01%. Sounds like good odds! But, this misses the point. We should not even be having this problem! Measles was virtually eliminated by the vaccine. In the year 2000, the CDC declared measles eliminated as there was an absence of the transmission of the disease that was greater than 12 months.
The History of Measles
Measles has been around for thousands of years. One of the first noted cases was in the 9th century by a Persian doctor. In 1757 Francis Home, a Scottish physician discovered measles was caused by an infectious agent in the blood. The United States classified measles as a nationally notifiable disease in 1912 and required all health care professionals to notify if the disease was present. Before the measles vaccine in 1963, nearly all children contracted measles before their 15th birthday. The CDC estimates 400 – 500 people died each year of measles before the vaccine, with 4,000 suffered encephalitis.
Remember, populations were smaller than now, and we are much more connected, meaning a disease can grow much faster now and spread rapidly. A measles outbreak now would be much more dangerous.
The measles vaccine was developed in 1963 and perfected in 1968. The vaccine now includes mumps and rubella (MMR). This means, if you choose to not get the measles vaccine, then you also are at risk for mumps and rubella.
Measles in Disneyland
NBC Los Angeles has a timeline of the outbreak that originated at Disneyland. It began on January 7th when Disneyland warned the public a visitor from a foreign country was linked to 7 cases in California and 2 in Utah. 6 of the 7 were not vaccinated. Doctors suspect the first infected person visited the park between December 15th and 20th, 2014. The next day Utah said both cases were also not vaccinated. By January 10th 19 people from three states were diagnosed, with a person in Colorado added. Throughout the month of January, California reported 59 cases of measles, with 42 linked to the exposure at Disneyland. As of February 6th, the CDC estimates 114 cases have been reported in the US, from 7 states (AZ – 7, CA – 99, CO – 1, NE – 1, OR – 1, UT – 3, WA – 2).
If I am Vaccinated, Why Should I Care?
You should because you can still get measles, all though the risk is much smaller. How can this be true? As in all things, not everything is 100%. The vaccine has a 95% success rate, meaning 5% will not become immune to measles. However, if one does contract measles, the effects will likely be smaller. This does mean that a vaccinated person who’s vaccine failed can transmit and spread measles to others. This is why you should care because you have no idea if the vaccine worked for you. Chances are it did, but it may have not. Thus, if you develop measles, you can transmit to all near you. Measles is highly contagious, meaning an outbreak can spread.
The purpose of vaccines is to protect society from a disease. For this to happen, a grand majority of the population must be vaccinated. As someone who is vaccinated cannot transmit the disease, it cannot spread. This means an outbreak is difficult if no one can infect others. This is the nature of Herd Immunity. For example, if one person is infected, and is introduced into a population of four people, all without the vaccine, chances are all four get infected (remember it is airborne). Those four each meet another four, and exponentially an outbreak forms. However, if an infected person is introduced to four people, with only 1 unvaccinated, then the one person can only infect one other person. If ratios remain constant, an outbreak cannot form, as not enough people will become infected. The image to the right illustrates this.
Why The Measles Outbreak Is Important
To be honest, the chances of a nationwide outbreak are slim. This is not the point. The point is, people are not vaccinating their children, and diseases are coming back. Polio, for example, could come back because it exists in other parts of the world. Most of us know nothing about Polio besides scenes in Forrest Gump, but it was a real and crippling disease. The World Health Organization reports causes have decreased 99% since 1988. However, worldwide, 416 cases were reported in 2013, with three countries have failed to stop the transmission of Polio (Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan).
You may be thinking that those countries are far away, and pose no risk. But with airplanes, someone from those countries could arrive here, and with people choosing not to vaccinate their children, in time, it will come back. It is basic math, if more and more are unvaccinated, the risk for disease for the population will increase. This is why this is important.
What happens if a very nasty disease is discovered and wreaks havoc? What if to stop this disease, vaccination is required? From the comments I see on Twitter, even in those instances, I cannot see many from the anti-vaccination crowd agreeing to this. From most of the comments I have seen, vaccines are pure evil, and you must resist. People will die if this continues. This is my fear, and this is why you should be concerned.
For me, I do not mind the discussion and do not mind studies to determine how safe, specific components of vaccines are, however, I cannot agree to any discussion on eliminating them. Our society needs vaccines and will continue to do so. Once public safety is at risk, which now it is, then we need to look toward vaccinating our population. Personal liberty is important, and required, however, this moves from a personal liberty issue to a public safety issue. We cannot ignore this, for someone far worse than measles could infect our population, and we need to be ready to deal with it.
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