Just before 7 p.m. last Thursday, as the Disneyland measles outbreak was emerging, the Los Angeles Times published an outraged editorial. It didn’t blame Disneyland, where the outbreak originated before going on to infect 70 people across six states. Nor did it blame any public agency. Instead, it took aim at a buoyant movement that won’t “get over its ignorant and self-absorbed rejection of science.”
The faction was the anti-vaccine movement — its holy text a retracted medical study, its high priest a disgraced British doctor named Andrew Wakefield. “The prospect of a new measles epidemic is disturbing,” the editorial said. “So is the knowledge that many ill-informed people accept a thoroughly discredited and retracted study in the journal Lancet that purported to associate vaccination with autism.”
Officials from Mexico to California are now scrambling to contain an outbreak that began at Disneyland but has now spilled across state lines, infecting dozens, many of whom never received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR).
And in Wakefield, who still preaches the gospel of anti-vaccination from Texas, such individuals find a true martyr — a man who has sacrificed everything to take on powerful pharmaceutical companies and the biggest villain of all: the government. Those who came to hear him speak in 2011 at Graceview Baptish Church in Tomball, Texas, left messages of encouragement, according to the New York Times: “We stand by you!” and “Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made for the cause!” Another person, suddenly aware that a reporter was in the midst, warned the writer she better be careful. “Be nice to him,” the woman said. “Or we will hurt you."
“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” J.B. Handley, co-founder of a group that disputes vaccine safety, told the Times. “He is a symbol of how all of us feel.”Tara Smith writes at Slate:
While the incidence of measles has dropped about 99 percent since the introduction of the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. The past year has shown a resurgence in measles infections in the United States. Last year was the worst year for measles in two decades. While we’ve seen fewer than 100 cases of measles in most years since the turn of the century, that number spiked to 644 cases in 2014, from 23 separate outbreaks in 27 states.Christopher Ingraham writes at The Washington Post:
Before the vaccine, the United States saw approximately 4 million cases of measles each year and 400 to 500 deaths. These are the stats that vaccine-deniers tend to emphasize—a relatively low number of deaths compared with the number of infections. However, those statistics alone leave out a big part of measles infections. Prevaccine, almost 48,000 people were also hospitalized each year because of measles and measles complications. One in 20 of those infected developed pneumonia. More rarely but more seriously, each year 1,000 became chronically disabled due to measles encephalitis.
Measles is not a benign disease.
A 2014 AP-GfK survey found that only 51 percent of Americans were confident that vaccines are safe and effective, which is similar to the proportion who believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts. I don't need to make the case about how harmful these beliefs are -- it's been done plenty of times before, and moreover studies show that arguing with anti-vaxxers only makes them more confident in their beliefs.
But the latest CDC data illustrate the troubling resurgence of a disease that, as of 2000, had been declared eliminated. Anti-vaxxers are quite literally turning back the clock on decades of public health progress.Adam Nagourney and Abby Goodnough write at The New York Times:
Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the outbreak was “100 percent connected” to the anti-immunization campaign. “It wouldn’t have happened otherwise — it wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” he said. “There are some pretty dumb people out there.”The Los Angeles Times reports on a case of closing the barn door after the horse is out:
The number of California parents who cite personal beliefs in refusing to vaccinate their kindergartners dropped in 2014 for the first time in a dozen years, according to a Times data analysis.
The shift came amid rising alarm over the number of children being exempted from immunization, which prompted new campaigns to reverse the trend.
A state law that went into effect last year made it more difficult for parents to excuse kindergartners from vaccines. Instead of signing a form, parents now must get a signature from a healthcare provider saying that they have been counseled on the risks of rejecting vaccinations. Alternatively, they can declare they are followers of a religion that prohibits them from seeking medical advice from healthcare practitioners.