The Anti-Vaxxer Movement and The Measles Outbreak

Have you heard? Measles is back! Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. The symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes. Small white spots form on the inside of the mouth and a flat red rash forms on the body. Complications related to measles can include pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, seizures, deafness, brain damage, and even death. Because measles is airborne and spreads by coughing and sneezing, there really is no prevention except for the measles vaccine. Once a person is infected, no specific treatment is available. Symptoms are treated using antibiotics, rehydration solutions, and healthy foods.

In 1980, 2.6 million people died of measles. This number dropped two 73,000 in 2014. 2017 took a sharp turn as the rates of measles related deaths increased due to a decrease in immunization.

“Vaccine hesitancy” is a real thing. It refers to a delay in acceptance, or complete refusal of vaccines despite availability. The anti-vaccination movement began in France in 1763 and still continues today. In 1763, France banned inoculation because Gatti, the Italian Doctor who introduced inoculation in Paris did not properly quarantine the inoculated people, thereby risking the lives of many Parisians. This made sense for the time. In 1998, a British doctor released a research paper investigating the relationship between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, and autism. In 2011, the paper was found to be fraudulent but the hesitancy around the vaccine remained. Also in 1998, the “Green Our Vaccines” movement came into being. It was a public campaign to remove thimerosal, a compound used as a preservative in vaccines, and other toxins from vaccines. Despite there being no evidence of harmful side effects, the U.S. public health and medical organizations agreed to reduce or remove thimerosal from vaccines. Both these instances from 1998 are the basis for the Anti-Vaccination Movement today.

By 2000, measles was eliminated in the U.S. and there were no cases of measles transmitted by patients within the U.S. In 2007, Jenny McCarthy, an actress, announced her son was diagnosed with autism, blaming it on vaccination. She became the face of the anti-vaccination movement. 2013 to 2015 saw a sudden spike in the number of people suffering from measles in the U.S. The majority of people who got measles had not been vaccinated. The first person to die from measles in 12 years passed away on July 2nd, 2015 in Washington.

Currently, there is a measles outbreak in British Columbia. This is directly linked to a family travelling to Vietnam, while the family’s three children had not been vaccinated against measles. In British Columbia, it is not mandatory to be vaccinated to attend public schools. In Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick, the vaccine is mandatory unless an exemption is issued.

In the U.S., more than 270 people across the country have been infected by measles. It is all being blamed on vaccine hesitancy. This is putting all those people in jeopardy who cannot be immunized, such as people who are allergic to the vaccine and new born babies. These people depend on the herd immunity to stay protected from measles. When immunisation rates fall, as has happened in the past few years, herd immunity can break down leading to an increase in the number of new cases.

If you are unsure of your immunization status, check with your doctor. They may be able to pull your immunization records. If you are still uncertain, it is suggested to get a booster shot from your local health practitioner. Keep yourself safe from this epidemic, and keep others safe in the process.

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