THE LAST WORD: Resurgence of measles makes strong case against anti-vaccination sentiment

Kerry Hubartt

Because of vaccines, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Vaccinations against diseases are considered one of the greatest public health achievements in history.

All 50 states have enacted compulsory childhood vaccination laws to stop the spread of preventable diseases. The medical, social and economic benefits, they realized, far outweigh the unavoidable risks of vaccinations.

So why have more than 700 people in 22 states contracted measles this year, including one person in Indiana?

One reason is that the disease is still common in many other countries with lower vaccination rates, and unvaccinated U.S. travelers to those countries may be exposed to the virus. The biggest reason is that too many people in this country in the current era have not been vaccinated to prevent contracting the disease.

Many people today have never witnessed the debilitating diseases that vaccines protect against, and that may have led to complacency toward immunization requirements.

A recent editorial in the South Bend Tribune pointed out another reason for the resurgence of the measles. It referenced a statement from a Purdue University professor earlier this year that vaccine rates started to decline in the U.S. shortly after the declaration of the elimination of measles in 2000 because of a fabricated study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination to autism.

“People make unfounded allegations about the side effects of vaccinations without any supporting medical evidence,” the Tribune declared. “The rumors get picked up and spread across the internet, which only adds to the problem.”

Anti-vaccination sentiment in the U.S. has continued to grow, due largely to the controversial and hotly disputed link between immunizations and autism. That has made controlling such diseases through immunization more difficult for health officials.

Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box issued a statewide standing order last week stating that adults do not need to see a health care provider to get a prescription for the measles, mumps and rubella and that they can get the MMR vaccine from any pharmacy that carries it.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease,” Box stated in a news release, “and we want to remove any barriers that may prevent Hoosiers from being protected during this nationwide outbreak.”

Box says people should be up-to-date on MMR vaccine, especially before international travel.

There was one confirmed case of measles in Indiana in 2018, and the Indiana State Department of Health said another case was recently confirmed in someone who recently spent time in LaGrange and Steuben counties in northeast Indiana.

The Tribune editorial reported that the number of measles cases in Michigan this year has climbed to 39 — the highest number there since 65 cases were reported in 1991.

Nationally, the number of measles cases reported so far this year is the highest in the U.S. since 1994.

Those of us who were born before 1957 are considered immune to measles because virtually everyone born before that year likely contracted the disease. But those born later need immunizations to prevent the disease from a resurgence in this country. The Center for Disease Control says 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people will contract measles if exposed to the virus.

The CDC says one dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus. Two doses are about 97 percent effective.

The state health department says Hoosiers wanting to get vaccinated may contact a pharmacy to ensure vaccine is available and inform the pharmacist that they will be using the state health commissioner’s standing order. Vaccine costs will be billed to insurance.

The Allen County Department of Health operates an immunization clinic where vaccines are offered to children, teens and adults for the most common vaccine-preventable diseases. Call (260) 449-7504 for more information

“Even one case of a disease that had largely disappeared is too many,” said Box, “and our hope is that this proactive step will help prevent additional cases in Indiana.”

When a potentially deadly disease is spread to others by an unvaccinated person, doesn’t that make it a public health issue? And, if so, should that supersede the right of a person to decide not to be vaccinated? The debate goes on.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.