As of January 30, 84 cases of measles have been confirmed in 14 states this year, including one young woman who rode an Amtrak train in New York while infected. This compares with under 100 cases in ALL of 2009, and only 37 in 2004. Here are some fast facts about the potential for the spread of the measles. An infected person can spread the measles virus for days before showing symptoms. The virus can be spread via a cough or sneeze, and can live for hours on surfaces. A non-vaccinated person exposed to the measles has a 90% chance of contracting it. A vaccinated person exposed to the measles has a 1% chance of getting sick. This should be a no-brainer, right? So why on earth are an increasing number of parents declining to vaccinate their children?
A parent’s right to not vaccinate their children ends within sneezing distance of kids who are too young or too immune-suppressed to be vaccinated. Vaccines only work in a society if as many people get them as possible, to protect those who cannot be vaccinated. Choosing to exclude one’s own child is unfair not only to that child, but to every child he or she comes into contact with. In 2000, federal officials considered measles to be eradicated in the United States because of the country’s strong measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccination program. Unfortunately, a 1998 paper – later completely debunked – that linked the MMR vaccine to autism led to a surge of parents unwilling to vaccinate their children. Yet even though the study has been disproven, many parents still use it as justification for not vaccinating. The US MMR vaccination rates remains at about 90%, but ranges from 86% in Colorado to 96% in DC and New Hampshire.
Some of the anti-vaxxers, including an Arizona cardiologist, bleat that kids need to get dirty and not be so overprotected, in order to strengthen their immune systems. Of course they do. Making mud pies, playing baseball, and jumping in puddles is getting dirty. Contracting a preventable virus that will at best make them sick for weeks is not the same thing. It is irresponsible parenting.
They say you can’t legislate against stupid, but in this case it appears that we can, and should. No vaccination, no public school for your children, no exceptions. And hopefully private schools would follow suit. Parents' right to make questionable decisions for their own children simply shouldn't put all of us at risk.