Over the past few weeks, we have received reports of an outbreak of measles in southwestern Washington, which has now hit more than 50 patients.
“But I thought we eradicated measles along with polio and a host of other serious diseases through vaccination,” you might be thinking to yourself.
You’d be right about that. The U.S., for all practical purposes, had indeed eradicated these pestilences as vaccines developed by top health care pioneers like the legendary Dr. Jonas Salk virtually wiped out these dreaded afflictions.
So what has changed?
In the Clark County (Vancouver), Wash., case, it has been reported that 42 out of the 49 known patients who have contracted the measles were not vaccinated.
One patient had only received a partial vaccination and the status of the six others was unknown. Health officials suspect the outbreak can be traced to exposure at the Portland International Airport, the Moda Center and other possible sites in and around the Portland area.
A separate group of cases have been reported among the Orthodox Jewish community in New York State.
What ties these two diverse population groups together is they are both at the heart of an anti-vaccination movement in the U.S.
Whether refusal to be vaccinated is based upon religious conviction or the misguided belief that children can be healthier without them, many parents are refusing to have their children immunized. They place us all at higher risk.
As one Washington state epidemiologist stated, “This is entirely preventable.”
It is indeed preventable, but only if we can successfully inoculate the entire population, so as to protect the most vulnerable among us — the young, the aged, and those with already-compromised immune systems.
Perhaps with the passage of time, we as a society have forgotten what terrible consequences these maladies can wreak upon human populations when left unchecked. Maybe it’s time for a new round of education, just as the older generation among us received back in the 1950s and ‘60s when these vaccinations were becoming widespread.
Meanwhile, the apparently growing ranks of “anti-vaxxers,” as they have become known, are holding proven science, best health care practices, and the rest of us hostage.
If you have children, please ensure that they are vaccinated and follow the recommended immunization schedule that virtually every state and local health department advocates. Do it for them and do it for all of us.