Monday, February 2, 2015

Measles Epidemic Pits Anti-Vaxx Parents Against Public Health

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No parent enjoys taking their infants and toddlers in for vaccinations. My husband hates needles, which meant that I was the one who always had to take our kids to the health department for shots against Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) or Diptheria(whooping cough) and Tetanus (DpTt) shots. I would go in with a happy smiling baby, come out with a screaming, cranky baby who would then run a fever for several days as the antibodies from the shots built up immunity in the blood.

No parent enjoys taking a little lamb in for shots, but I always reminded myself that children once died from things like Measles and Whooping Cough. Vaccines are a miracle. The kids in the U.S. are lucky to have nearly free vaccines for the asking.

Except when parents don't ask and don't care, and don't take the steps to get their children vaccinated. And when there's an actual "Anti-Vaxx" movement, then many more children are at risk. And now it is causing a dangerous epidemic that started, of all places, in Disneyland!

From Time Magazine
Somewhere in Orange County, Mary Poppins and Ariel the mermaid may be running a fever. The same could be true for her coworkers—any of the other 23,000 people (OK, or characters) who punch in for work at Disneyland every day. And the same could be true too for any one of the estimated 16 million people who will pour into the theme park this year.

The reason? Measles. The cause? This may not come entirely as a surprise: the anti-vaccine crowd.

. . . The outbreak has spread to five other states—which is to be expected when the place that is ground zero for any infection attracts visitors from all over the world. Of the first 20 Disneyland victims, 15 were unvaccinated. Concern about the infections has gotten so great that California State epidemiologist Gil Chavez warned the public that anyone who has not had the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine should avoid all California theme parks “for the time being.”

Schools were once the frontline against epidemics, either becoming makeshift clinics for vaccinations, or by insisting that parents have their children vaccinated before they could attend school. But thanks to the Anti-Vaxxers, some systems began to allow parents to opt-out of the requirement for religious or personal reasons. In politically red states, the Anti-Vaxx movement has been helped along by a GOP that appears to hate any type of mass health care, and who like to pander to far-right Libertarians and Homeschool parents.

How did the Anti-Vaxx movement get started? Mostly because there are "clusters" of autistic children around the country and no one has proven scientifically why that is happening. One scientist decided to "prove" that it was the vaccination mixtures causing autism. And since autism remains vastly more frightening to parents who have never actually seen what measles can do to child, they bought the idea hook, line and sinker.

From Forbes
...The wave began with a 1998 paper published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, claiming that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. Wakefield’s work was later shown to be fraudulent, and his claims about the vaccine “dishonest and irresponsible.” After lengthy investigations, the paper was retracted and Wakefield lost his medical license. Despite this very public repudiation, Wakefield has stuck to his claims, though, and has spent much of the past 15 years speaking (or perhaps “preaching” would be a better term) to anti-vaccine groups, to whom he is a kind of folk hero.
It’s not just Wakefield, though. Anti-vaccine messages have been broadcast aggressively by the group Generation Rescue, led by former Playboy playmate and MTV host Jenny McCarthy, and by Age of Autism, a group dedicated to the proposition that vaccines cause autism. (Age of Autism is doing it again right now.) And just last summer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published a new book further promoting the long-discredited claim that thimerosal causes autism.

Who are these parents?

From Washington Post
. . . the anti-vaccination movement is fueled by an over-privileged group of rich people grouped together who swear they won't put any chemicals in their kids (food or vaccines or whatever else), either because it's trendy to be all-natural or they don't understand or accept the science of vaccinations. Their science denying has been propelled further by celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and actress Mayim Bialik, who is also a neuroscientist and even plays one on TV.

Of the 34 patients in the current measles outbreak whose vaccination status is known, only five were fully vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Times. And the worst of the outbreak is centered in Orange County, ground zero for the anti-vaccination movement that's put children at risk over junk science.

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