Sacramento Bee: World is too small for Disneyland anti-vax risk

Measles outbreak is no surprise

January 14, 2015

By: Editorial Board

The Disneyland measles contagion now stands at 26 patients and counting. Thanks to one infected park visitor and at least a dozen unvaccinated bystanders, a potentially lethal disease that had been all but eradicated in this country has spread throughout California and into three other states.

At least six people have been hospitalized after visiting the packed Anaheim theme park during the week before Christmas. Some of the victims are babies.

More than 380 people have had to be quarantined in Utah because two kids brought it home with them and spread it around grocery stores, Mormon temples and movie theaters in Provo and Orem.

Health officials in Washington’s Snohomish and Grays Harbor counties have had to retrace the movements of two unvaccinated females who flew there while they were infected and contagious.

In Colorado, authorities are trying to find as many as 75 people who may have been exposed to a woman who returned with the disease to El Paso County. She was the county’s first case of the measles in more than two decades.

If only we could say we didn’t see this coming. But it’s no surprise.

For years, public health officials have warned that the anti-vaccination movement was making us and our children vulnerable to formerly conquered diseases. As recently as 2000, federal health officials had declared that the U.S. had eliminated measles, though that disease, like others, continues to be a problem in Southeast Asia, parts of Europe and elsewhere.

Then came the rise of the anti-vaxxers. Waving discredited scientific reports that falsely tie vaccines to autism, these foolish parents, many from affluent enclaves like Disneyland’s Orange County, stopped immunizing their children. Ignoring the continuing risk of infection from Third World travelers and the importance of the “herd immunity” that protects everybody, they have undermined years of progress.

Since 2006, the percentage of California kindergartners vaccinated for measles has fallen from 95 percent to 92.6 percent, perilously close to the 92 percent threshold. Predictably, the disease has returned: Between 2013 and 2014, cases more than tripled nationally and nearly quadrupled in California.

Older generations of Americans may hazily regard the measles nostalgically as a childhood rite of passage involving a rash and fever, but memory is selective. Measles can be lethal, particularly to infants. Infection can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and meningitis. One or two of every 1,000 infected children die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And measles is just one example. Whooping cough and the mumps also are making comebacks.

Surely this outbreak proves that enough is enough.

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, believes better information is one answer. Pan pushed a state law that last year required parents to be fully informed before exercising the “personal belief” exemption from vaccination requirements for schoolchildren. It helped, leading to the first, albeit slight, uptick in kindergarten vaccination rates in years.

Pan is pushing a follow-up bill this year that would better inform parents of vaccination rates in their school districts. It’s a good idea, but more should be done to encourage immunization.

Even now, the anti-vax response to the outbreak is all about their “right” to leave their kids unprotected. Well, the rest of us have rights, too.

It’s a small world, as they say in Disneyland, and these diseases are out there in it. We don’t have to be this vulnerable.

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