A disease once eliminated in the United States has reemerged. Last year there were 644 measles cases in the U.S., and this January 102 cases have already emerged.
The best way to prevent outbreaks is through state requirements on vaccinations. Before the measles vaccine existed, almost every person in the United States was infected with it before age 15.
“(Vaccines are) the reason some of the most lethal diseases have been eradicated from the United States,” said first-year Darby Kozen.
However, according to The Atlantic, one out of every eight American children have not received all of the medically recommended vaccinations. Anti-vaxxers often argue for natural infections as the best method of long-term immunity.
“In the world of science, it is quite well known that infections in early life protect against various cancers in later life,” said Neil Miller, director of the Thinktwice Global Vaccine Institute, in an email to the Guilfordian. “Vaccinations (have) denied babies opportunities to become naturally infected, and with this reduction in exposure to disease there was a tradeoff — increased rates of cancer.”
This tradeoff may be worth it because of the high expense of catching these infections.
“The problem is that natural infection comes with complications,” said Cynthia Leifer, associate professor of immunology at Cornell University in a phone interview with The Guilfordian. “There are severe later consequences that can occur. In measles, children can continue to have febrile seizures, and they can have severe brain swelling, also called encephalitis, that occurs 7 to 10 years later.
“Measles is getting all of the attention right now, but there are other childhood diseases that might even be worse, such as polio. People who are not vaccinating for measles are also not vaccinating for mumps, rubella, whooping cough or polio.”
Vaccinations are not only important for individuals; they also promote the health of a community.
“The real problem with most of these diseases is that there always is a contingent of the population that can’t get vaccines because they’re immunosuppressed,” said Michele Malotky, department chair and associate professor of biology. “So, those people depend on the rest of society to get the vaccine. They benefit from something we call herd immunity.”
In the case of measles, if 92 –95 percent of a community is vaccinated, then outbreaks will end because there will be few to spread the virus to. However, local outbreaks, such as the 2014 outbreak in an Amish community in Ohio, can occur.
“People who don’t want to be vaccinated tend to live close together,” said Part-Time Lecturer of Biology Randall Hayes. “So, even if you’re above 95 percent as an average across the whole country, in that local area, you can easily drop below 95 percent of the local area and have a local outbreak.”
Getting vaccinated should be required in every state and exemptions should only be for medical reasons, rather than religious and personal reasons; only Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated these exemptions.
“This measles outbreak shows us that states with lax requirements for vaccination have the most susceptible residents and the most measles cases,” said Bill Moss, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of Epidemiology at International Vaccine Access Center in a phone interview with The Guilfordian.
Removing personal and religious exemptions would increase vaccination rates across the country and prevent further outbreaks of viral infections.
“By getting vaccinated, we are caring for each other and our larger communities,” said Gal Adam Spinrad, a blogger at Love, Beauty & Abundance in an email to The Guilfordian. “It goes beyond doing what our doctor recommends — it is a commitment to each other and the wellbeing of all of us, not just the most fortunate among us who are blessed with good health and good healthcare.”
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