Brown: The return of measles


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Stemming from an outbreak at an amusement park in Anaheim, California, the measles disease has made a notable resurgence in California along with cases in at least 13 other states and Mexico.

The current number of confirmed cases is 103, and that could possibly increase as time moves on. While 103 is by no means a daunting number when compared with the scale of larger pandemics such as the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, it does hint at an ominous potential, given that the number of reported cases for all of last year was 644. Because this only February, a measles outbreak that continues to grow at the current rate will far exceed last year’s numbers.

Even more troubling is the amount of contention that has arisen when discussing vaccinations for the highly contagious, albeit preventable, virus that causes measles. Many now look to the anti-vaccination movement across the country as culpable for the recent increase in measles cases; the disease was all but eradicated with the prevalence of twice-administered vaccinations for children 15 years ago.

The issue of immunization has now largely shifted from a matter of public health to a matter of ideology, with staunch opposition coming from parents on the grounds of lifestyle, religion, and health concerns.

At one point, some thought there was a link between autism and vaccinations because of “findings” in a 1998 medical report. The report turned out to be false, but seeds of doubt about the efficacy and adverse side effects of childhood vaccinations had been sowed. This misconception about vaccinations, when paired with previously held beliefs about lifestyle and modern medicine by some parents, has snowballed into an ardent refusal to allow their children to be vaccinated.

The truth of the matter is that the vaccine for measles does work and refusal to vaccinate puts others at risk.

Those in support of the anti-vaccination movement have tried to spin this into an argument about the rights of parents to mandate their children’s lifestyle and raise them as they see fit. However, this is not an issue of parents’ rights. This is an issue of combating an entirely preventable disease and not putting other people’s children in harm’s way in the name of standing on principles. According to the World Health Organization, 15.6 million deaths were prevented because of the vaccine between 2000 and 2013.

There is a time and a place for defending one’s morals, but when one’s actions carry the potential to contribute to the spread of a lethal disease that has claimed millions of lives, it doesn’t quite seem appropriate. Parents have the right to do what is best for their children, but there are times when what is best may conflict with their thoughts on the matter. The issue of vaccinations is not an individual choice, because the decision not to administrate them puts others at risk. It is not a personal freedom to make decisions that are hazardous to other people. It’s selfish.

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