A Return to the Dark Ages, Measles Make a Comeback…Again

Lynn Adams
Apr 25, 2014

This could the year of the measles in the USA, again. In the first four months of 2014, 129 people have contracted this disease in our country; this is the highest number reported in this time frame since 1996. Thirteen states have reported cases of measles and the highest numbers are in California (58 cases), New York City (24 cases) and Washington state (13 cases). There have been no deaths yet, but Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials have stated that it is only a matter of time. In a time where preventive medicine is so widely available, how is it people are still suffering and dying from diseases of the Dark Ages?

Let’s look at some recent history. The last major measles outbreak occurred between 1989 and 1991 when 55,000 people suffered and greater than 100 people died. This outbreak occurred mainly in high-density, low-income inner city locations and was linked to a widespread failure to vaccinate uninsured children between the ages of 12-15 months old. In this case, Congress acted quickly (for them) and created the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program in 1994. The program provides free vaccines to children who are uninsured, underinsured, live in Medicaid-eligible homes or are American Indian or Alaska Native. This is a $4 billion/year program and roughly ½ of all children in the USA are eligible. It’s a pretty good system, as far as government sponsored programs go. The CDC buys vaccines at a discount and sends them to state and local health departments that then give them away to clinics and doctors who are registered VFC providers.

Great, problem solved, right? Wrong. The outbreak this year is not linked to a local pool of the virus, as it was last time. This time, the outbreak has been traced to people entering the country carrying the virus – either Americans who traveled abroad and came back with it, or foreign visitors entering the USA. Of the 129 cases, 34 came into the country with the measles and 17 of these people came in from the Philippines, which is currently experiencing an outbreak. The rest of the cases were people who came into contact with others who were infected abroad.

Time to smack your forehead with your hand and say “what the” as my daughter likes to do. Precisely, what is the problem here? Herd immunity. When enough of the population is vaccinated against a disease, the disease does not have the ability to gain a foothold and have a major impact on a population. Why do we not have herd immunity in this country against a disease that is fatal and preventable?

This brings us to the inevitably volatile topic of vaccination, and where I stand on it. Simply put, babies should not die from the measles in this day and age. Vaccinations do not cause autism, period, end of story. If you live in a community you carry an obligation to others in that community to do your part for the greater good. Aside from the misguided fear of vaccines, another obstacle is cost, which Congress has partially addressed through their VFC program – but can we do better? How can we help other countries, like the Philippines, gain herd immunity as well? What do you think? How else can we keep diseases like the measles from bringing us back to the Dark Ages? The floor is yours.

Lynn Adams

Lynn S. Adams, Ph.D. is an Alumni Fellow. She blogs about nutrition policy, the connections between nutrition and disease risk, the health effects of environmental exposures and the cancer prevention potential of natural products at Sci on the Fly. If you want Lynn to share her posts with you, follow her on Twitter: @lstedda68.

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Comments (3)

Lynn Adams (not verified)
May 07, 2014 at 10:43 am
FYI, a case of measles was just reported in Virginia.
Jackie (not verified)
May 08, 2014 at 2:02 pm
I couldn't agree more with Ms. Adams' views on vaccinations and hope more people will wake up and listen. Thank you for posting this piece on such an important topic.
Lynn Adams (not verified)
June 03, 2014 at 10:54 am
The CDC has now reported 288 cases of measles in the United States as of May 23rd. The incidence is on pace to hit a 20-year high.

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