Measles – A Battle Report

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Connecticut has one of the nation’s highest rates of vaccination for the measles virus. Many of our State’s legislators, including Governor Lamont, have expressed serious concern with our State’s compliance rate.

Both of these contradictory statements are true.

The discrepancy arises from the latest State vaccination report. Past data disclosed only state averages for school vaccination rates, perhaps creating a false sense of security. The latest study, however, gives a breakdown of individual school data. These numbers show that most Connecticut schools have vaccination rates higher than 95% – the threshold that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has set for successful “herd immunity.” But they also show that 109 schools in Connecticut have rates below that level, creating a health risk – not only to unvaccinated school children, but also to the larger community, including babies under one year of age, pregnant women, and any immuno-compromised individuals.

While most children survive a measles infection, a small percentage suffer serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, which have proved fatal to some, leaving others cognitively impaired. Measles is the most contagious germ on the planet. If one person in a room has an active case, 90% of unvaccinated people in that room will become infected. The virus lives in nose and throat mucus, and is typically spread through coughing and sneezing. It can remain viable for two hours in the air, so even entering an empty room – such as a pediatrician’s waiting room – can result in an infection. It becomes contagious four days before the rash appears.

Yet measles is highly preventable. Vaccination has proven itself to be one of the most successful medical interventions ever, saving literally millions of lives since Edward Jenner first invented the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Complications from modern vaccines are infinitesimally small.

What’s new is the wholesale spread on misinformation by so-called “anti-vaxxers” through social media. They are not a homogeneous group, however, and can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. They may see vaccines as a nefarious government tool, or imagine some kind of cabal between the federal government and Big Pharma. Some are underinformed but have a bias toward “natural” remedies. Some are hyperinformed, but get most of their information from non-objective websites.

Such parents may seek vaccine exemptions based on personal or philosophical grounds, but they are able to opt out using the religious exemption. Yet there is no canonical basis for vaccine prohibition in any of the major religions.

State legislators are considering eliminating the religious exemption, and held hearings on May 13. I believe this strategy is warranted. By the time this publication goes to print, the number of measles cases in the U.S. will likely exceed 1000, and continue to escalate.

Unvaccinated children put the larger community at risk. Even home-schooled children, who are less likely to be vaccinated, do not live in a bubble. They go to libraries, supermarkets, churches, movie theaters, sporting events.

It’s one thing when parents unwittingly put their own children at risk. Quite another when they impose this risk on other people’s children.

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