Part 1 of 2
Costa Rica. Land of sun, surf, and rainforests. Madagascar is an island of exotic animals found nowhere else on earth. And Washington State, jewel of the Pacific Northwest, and home to Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks.
All three locations boast world class amenities and natural beauty. But now, they share something more ominous: measles outbreaks.
Despite that insidious disease having been virtually eradicated throughout the world because of vaccines, it has made a vengeful return, courtesy of the misguided but very vocal anti-vaccine crowd (anti-vaxxers).
You would think that the sobering numbers (68,000 cases in Madagascar since September, resulting in 1,000 deaths), would inject the anti-vaccine movement with common sense. But no luck. As the number of cases climb, they just dig in harder. Since the anti-vaccine mindset puts so many at risk, we need to stop gently needling anti-vaxxers, and give them a dose of the right medicine — a facts campaign explaining why they are wrong. If done correctly, that message will go viral, becoming the shot in the arm America needs to protect itself.
Government-mandated vaccination is an issue that turns traditional political positions upside down. Some who believe that paternalistic government knows best are staunchly opposed. And many civil libertarians, who abhor governmental intrusion, nonetheless think that the public must be protected from communicable diseases through required vaccination.
Here’s where things stand: there have been outbreaks in ten states this year, affecting mostly children.
Not coincidentally, they occurred in areas with low vaccination rates.
For the measles vaccine to be effective (providing “herd” immunity for a society), at least 90 percent of a population must be vaccinated. But as more people cling to conspiratorial beliefs that vaccines are harmful (and, in particular, lead to autism), the vaccination rate is in danger of falling below that threshold. That is relevant for three reasons.
First, it places extreme risk on those most vulnerable to measles, including babies, those with vaccine allergies, and people with compromised health. This applies not just to measles, but diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, rubella, and mumps.
Second, the non-vaccinated threaten everyone’s health because no vaccination is 100 percent effective. The efficacy rate of the measles vaccine is roughly 97 percent; when that number is combined with 95 percent of a population being immunized, the likelihood of contracting measles, let alone the disease spreading, is virtually nil. The opposite is also true. When fewer people are vaccinated, the chance of outbreaks rises exponentially. Public awareness is crucial, since we face a measles risk greater than at any point since the 1960’s.
Third, whenever an eradicated disease returns, it can develop a mutation to which we have little or no immunity. That is nature’s way of giving self-preservation to viruses. In the age of global travel, that makes worldwide epidemics, and indeed pandemics, all the more possible.
To win the day on vaccinations, it is important to know why they are critical.
Measles is one of history’s most infectious diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control: “Measles can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”
Before the vaccine was developed in 1963, the numbers were chilling. As reported in The Week, over 4 million people were infected each year, with over 500 annual deaths. During the rubella epidemic of 1964-65 (prior to the introduction of the vaccine), “11,000 babies exposed to the virus while in utero were born deaf, 3,500 were born blind, and 1,800 were developmentally disabled.”
Yet, incomprehensibly, the anti-vaxx trend is gaining traction. The result: cases in the Philippines surged ten times at the start of this year (on top of a 900 percent increase in 2018). In Europe, 82,000 cases were reported last year. And in the U.S., January’s numbers were one-fifth the total number of measles cases in 2018. Consequently, the World Health Organization has declared measles as one of the top global health threats in 2019 — yet, for example, in Clark County, Washington, twenty-five percent of all kindergartners remain unvaccinated.
Remarkably, these outbreaks aren’t phasing many in the anti-vaxx movement. Immunization rates are plummeting despite the unequivocal truth that a staggering 21 million lives have been saved since 2000 because of the measles vaccine.
Ironically, the most communicable disease of all doesn’t involve blood cells. It’s called ignorance, and it is the most malevolent virus in human history. But there is a cure: a well-educated society with an eye on self-preservation. In part two, we will advocate the steps to eradicate both measles and ignorance.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone Media. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.