The recent outbreak of measles in the United States has raised flags in the public health world.
In the month of January alone, 102 people across 14 states were reported to have measles. An outbreak in Disneyland in December led to a concentration of outbreaks in California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona, that then spread east to Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah. As the majority of people who contracted the infection were unvaccinated, the outbreak has heightened discussion around the value of vaccination and the role of parental choice.
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system, immune system and skin. The airborne disease can be transmitted from person to person through contact with the small droplets that are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People affected with measles are infectious for about four days before and four days after the initial appearance of the rash.
In 1963, the measles vaccine became available to the public. Within the next ten years, combination vaccines were developed that vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella in a single shot. In 2005, the varicella vaccination was added to the combination mix. Prior to the vaccine, almost everyone in the U.S. became infected with measles before the age of 15, killing about one per 1,000 people infected. In 2013, there were a total of 159 cases reported.
The prominent increase in reported cases this past month alone has led to an eruption of talk about the vaccination. Those in favor of the vaccination have determined herd immunity as the main advantage. The herd effect is described as the reduction in risk because every person who is vaccinated reduces the possible sources of infection, additionally reducing the risk in unvaccinated people. Those vaccinated act as a barrier to reduce the infection risk to those who cannot be immunized. To maintain herd immunity, children need to be vaccinated at a high rate over time. Those against the measles vaccine claim a link between the vaccination and mental illnesses such as autism. Additionally, parents are skeptical of vaccines for the ingredients in vaccinations that can potentially cause side effects.
The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that because of vaccinations, 732,000 American children were saved from death, and 322 million cases of childhood illnesses were prevented between 1994 and 2014.