By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
There were 102 cases of measles in the United States in January 2015. Most of the cases were in California. The majority of people who contracted the measles were unvaccinated. To put things in perspective, there were less than 100 cases per year from 2002 to 2007.
One good thing may come of the January outbreak. Two state senators from California, Ben Allen and Richard Pan (who is also a pediatrician), wrote a bill to abolish religious and personal-belief exemptions for children who wish to attend public school. This is a step in the right direction.
Communities need a vaccination rate of 90 percent or more to prevent outbreaks of the measles. Choosing not to vaccinate yourself or your children is not solely a personal choice. The decision not to vaccinate can profoundly affect the people around you, exposing others to disease.
These “others” include infants too young to be vaccinated, or the immunocompromised, like Rhett Krawitt. Rhett, 6, is now in remission, having fought leukemia for four and a half years. After three rounds of chemotherapy, his immune system is rebuilding. He’s not yet strong enough for vaccines. His parents, Carl and Jodi Krawitt, are campaigning for Rhett’s school district to require immunization as a condition of attendance, only allowing exemptions for medical reasons.
Unvaccinated kids in California were barred from some schools for weeks to prevent spreading the outbreak. Currently, parents in California can use a personal belief exemption to skirt vaccination requirements. Some schools report that 50 to 70 percent of kindergarteners are not fully vaccinated. These low rates of vaccinations are on par with Chad and war-torn South Sudan, Third-World countries ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of human development.
Vaccines have saved millions of lives and will continue to save lives. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and the CDC (along with many other health organizations) strive to vaccinate children in developing nations, sparing millions of children an untimely death. High rates of vaccinations in the United States have made diseases that struck fear in the hearts of our grandparents things of the past. But without the specter of preventable diseases that stole children from their parents a hundred years ago, we’ve forgotten what a miracles vaccines are.
Many in the American anti-vaccine community downplay the severity of preventable diseases like the measles and whooping cough. No, not every child who gets sick dies. But they do suffer needlessly. And some do die, or suffer long-term consequences. The narrative that measles and whooping cough are “not that bad” ignores the privilege that comes with living in the US. Parents and children who live here have access to advanced medical care and treatment. Children in developing nations do not.
Worldwide, there are about 16 million cases, and 195,000 deaths, of whooping cough (pertussis) a year. In 2012, there were 20 pertussis deaths in America. The majority of the deaths were of infants less than three months old.
Measles can cause serious complications for anyone, but children under five and adults over 20 are more likely to suffer complications. Complications include permanent hearing loss from ear infections, brain swelling (that can lead to deafness, convulsions and mental retardation) and death.
Your health and your children’s health matters. Herd immunity matters. Vaccines are a proven, safe way to protect ourselves, the people we love, and society at large. They save lives.
Here’s hoping that a small taste of the reality of preventable diseases – in the form of the current outbreak – will inspire more families to vaccinate.