For years, doctors have steadfastly debunked the unfounded claims against inoculation for measles. Yet false beliefs that the vaccine might cause seizures, autism, mercury poisoning or death have survived and proliferated, spread like a contagion via television and social media.
These myths have caused great harm - a fact that’s increasingly apparent. Lower rates of vaccination have caused outbreaks of the illness around the world. The rise in incidence may finally be scaring sense into parents who’d been wary of having their children get their shots, but it would be foolish to count on it. Governments urgently need to make stronger demands that parents have their children inoculated.
Measles is serious. In children, it can lead to deafness, lasting breathing problems, weakened immunity, brain damage or death. The virus behind it is so contagious that a cough from someone who may not know he’s infected is enough to sicken nine in 10 people who breathe the surrounding air during the next two hours. It’s a needless risk. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, given in two doses, is 97 percent effective in preventing infection.
What’s most frustrating about the recent doubling in worldwide measles cases - to nearly 230,000 in 2018 - is that so much progress had previously been made. From 2000 to 2016, vaccination had lowered the number of measles deaths globally by 84 percent.
Because measles is so contagious, vaccination rates must reach 95 percent for a population to be protected.
Talking parents out of their reluctance to vaccinate has proved difficult. When presented with the facts, some refuse to listen. Others may believe that the risk their child will contract the disease is too small to worry about - but if more than a tiny number of parents think that way, then that belief becomes false.
Congress and outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb have sounded alarms, and rightly so. When it comes to measles, it has gotten out of hand and needs to be defeated. Lives are at stake.