Measles and Polio set out on an
adventure to infect someone after the C.D.C. considers measles
eradicated in the United States. Polio teaches Measles how several
logical fallacies prevent many people from taking the vaccine, and that
there is always a hope of going viral.
Measles Is Making a Comeback. Here’s How to Stop It.
Lawmakers and social media platforms each have a role to play in fighting back.
cartoon from Times Opinion tells the story of an infectious disease
named Measles. Lucky for her, there are many adults who doubt the
scientific evidence that supports vaccination.
a virus that invades the nose and throat, causing fever, cough and
phlegm, is one of the most contagious pathogens on the planet. Before
1963, it infected some four million people every year
in the United States alone. Nearly 50,000 of them would land in the
hospital with complications like severe diarrhea, pneumonia and brain
inflammation that sometimes resulted in lifelong disability. Of the 500
or so patients who died from these complications each year, most were
children younger than 5.
recently, those numbers were a matter of history. The measles vaccine,
which was introduced to the United States in 1963, drove the annual case
count from four million to zero inside of four decades. Measles was
officially eradicated in America in 2000 and was largely wiped from our
collective memory soon after.
the shadow of that memory lapse, a different virus has spread:
anti-vaccine propaganda and vaccine misinformation. Both have persuaded a
small but growing number of parents that vaccines designed to inoculate
against infectious diseases pose a greater health risk than the
diseases themselves. As a result, these parents are skipping crucial
shots for their children. And as the number of unvaccinated children
grows, some vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has logged at least six measles outbreaks so far this year, across five states, involving more than 100 patients. In recent weeks, as those numbers have ticked upward,
both houses of Congress have held hearings to discuss the issue, while
more states have considered limiting vaccine exemptions for school-age
children and several prominent social media platforms have pledged to
block anti-vaccine propaganda and vaccine misinformation from their sites.
a while, it was easy to dismiss the nation’s anti-vaccine contingent.
The vast majority of Americans still recognize vaccines as a crucial
element of personal and public health. Some 92 percent of vaccine-eligible people in the United States
have been inoculated against measles, and nearly as many have had shots
to protect against the other vaccine-preventable diseases, including
diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
the new rash of outbreaks has made clear that even small pockets of
vaccine hesitancy and refusal can have grave consequences. And health
officials say that if left unchecked, this outbreak crisis will only
The steps taken in recent weeks mark a good start to addressing a problem that can no longer be ignored. But much more is still needed:
Every dollar spent on childhood immunization saves between $10 and $16
in future costs to the health care system. Yet funding for the federal
immunization grant program, part of the Public Health Service Act, has
been relatively flat for a decade.
The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which includes funding
to help states respond to public health emergencies, has lapsed and is awaiting reauthorization. And the C.D.C., the nation’s leading public health agency, is in urgent need
of a budget increase. For health officials to combat current outbreaks
and prevent future ones, all of these programs will need more money.
Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook
have made a good start in acknowledging the problem of vaccine
misinformation on their platforms, and they’ve all taken at least some
steps to address it. Pinterest has restricted vaccine search results,
YouTube has barred anti-vaccine channels from running advertisements and
Facebook has said that it will no longer allow anti-vaccine
advertisements on its pages. Other sites — like Google, Amazon and Twitter—
should follow these examples, and all social media platforms should
consider having scientists vet vaccine content for accuracy.
partnership between federal agencies and private internet behemoths —
to better understand and more quickly dismantle the anti-vaccine
movement — also would help. As Vox
points out, this movement has an outsize media footprint and an
impressive lobbying arm; it will take more than a few websites acting
independently to defeat it.
health care workers struggle to persuade wary parents that vaccines are
safe, elected officials who understand the importance of this work
ought to stop undermining it. In one recent congressional hearing,
Senator Rand Paul,
a medical doctor, acknowledged that the benefits of vaccines far
outweigh the risks. But instead of taking a stand for vaccination
mandates, he warned of sacrificing “liberty for a false sense of
security.” Such statements — and the lax exemption policies that Mr. Paul and several of his colleagues support — might please some voters, but they will not nudge diseases like measles back into history.