For the doctors and nurses caring for patients with measles, the return of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles — a viral illness that once killed 3,000 to 5,000 Americans a year — is both frightening and all too predictable.
USA Today reports that “at least 152 cases of measles” have been diagnosed in the US “so far this year – twice the number seen in a typical year, and the biggest outbreak in 15 years,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Measles can be like a canary in a coal mine,” says the CDC’s Gregory Wallace. “If there are any issues with vaccine coverage, it can first be apparent with measles.”
In the past “three years, doctors also have seen outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases such as mumps, whooping cough” and Haemophilus influenzae type B.
Although overall vaccine “coverage remains high, 40% of parents say they have deliberately skipped or delayed a shot for their children.”
In some ways, vaccines are a victim of their own success. Today’s parents have never seen the diseases that terrified their grandparents, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We’ve not only eliminated these diseases; we’ve eliminated the memory of these diseases,” Offit says.
Parents who decline vaccines may not realize that they’re gambling with the lives of not just their kids, but all the children around them, says Patsy Stinchfield, director of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
This is not just a personal choice, a case of “I choose not to vaccinate my child, and this only affects my family.” It affects your whole community.
Notably, a study in Journal of the American Medical Association found that from 1991 to 2004, the number of unvaccinated children in “states allowing philosophical exemptions more than doubled.”
That’s partly because like-minded parents tend to flock together, creating enclaves in which relatively few children are vaccinated on time — and viruses have more freedom to spread, says Ari Brown of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, not vaccinating your kids is not only potentially harmful to them, but also to your family and friends. It strikes me as an extraordinarily selfish and unwise decision for any parent.
Here are some of my blogs on vaccinations over the last year: