Washington State declared a state of emergency on Friday, January 25. At the time, officials had confirmed 26 cases of measles in Clark County, Washington. On Monday, just three days later, there were 36 confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases. The number of affected people had nearly doubled—and health officials expect it to get worse before it gets better.
Measles is dangerous. One in four people who get measles will be hospitalized. Some will experience brain swelling and lasting disability. Some will die.
Measles is also incredibly infectious. Around 90% of unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to the disease will get it. In an unvaccinated population, one person can infect up to eighteen others. For comparison, a person infected with Ebola usually infects two others.
In vaccinated populations, though, cases of measles are rare—the vaccine is 97% effective. In fact, low rates of immunizations are directly related to the severity of this outbreak. And the Disney Land Outbreak in 2014. And the chicken-pox outbreak that occurred earlier this year in Asheville.
So why aren’t people getting vaccinated?
The answer is complex. The United States holds a core belief in autonomy, or that a person ought to be able to do with their body what they want to without unreasonable interference. Our country also has a core belief in religious freedom; people ought to be able to practice their religion as they see fit.
These two tenants form the bedrock of most anti-vaccine arguments. If a person doesn’t want to have their body injected with a vaccine because it violates their philosophical, moral, or religious beliefs, then the government cannot force them to.
This, combined with an increase in vaccine myths (FYI, the MMR vaccine DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM!), has led to more and more people choosing not to get vaccinated. When the percentage of the population that is vaccinated drops below a certain level, outbreaks like this one are almost a guarantee.
Of course, the solution is simple. Get vaccinated. Vaccinate your kids. Advocate to remove loopholes to vaccine requirements. If you hear (or see) people spreading misinformation about vaccines, correct them.
Not sure what’s vaccine fact and vaccine fiction? Check out this article:
We can rebuild the so-called “herd immunity” that protects us from outbreaks like the one in Washington.
For more information, check out these sites:
The Washington State Measles Outbreak
CDC + Measles