Outbreak – Measles in America

In the year 2000, officials declared that measles had been eliminated from the United States of America. Yet, measles outbreaks have been reported in twenty-six American states, just since the beginning of 2019. Certain areas of New York, including Brooklyn and Queens, are seeing dramatic outbreaks. The reason behind the declaration of the eradication of measles and the outbreak of the disease in the United States are the same. Namely, a vaccination program. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “measles is a highly contagious virus and can have serious consequences — pneumonia, brain damage, hearing loss and even death.” The CDC states that prior to the creation in 1963 of a measles inoculation, “most children contracted the illness — an estimated 3 million to 4 million patients were infected each year in the country.” The measles vaccine cut down dramatically on cases of the illness in the U.S. In 2000, medical professionals declared the disease eradicated from America.  

However, according to the CDC, measles remains common in other countries and therein lies part of the cause of the United State’s outbreak. The rest of the problem is that when an unvaccinated American travels to a country which still has measles they can catch the highly contagious disease and bring it back to the states with the potential of infecting other unvaccinated people. However, while this means measles could not truly be eliminated from the United States, it was virtually erased as the number of cases remained fairly low. From 2000 to 2018, there were an average of 140 measles cases per year in the United States. However, as of May 24th of this year, there have been 940 cases, which is an increase of 60 cases from the week before. With 2019 not quite half way done, this raises great concern and alarms for the medical community.

Overall, the United States has a good vaccination rate, but there are states and sections of states with far less compliance. These places become much more susceptible to large outbreaks when a flier transports measles from another country back to America. This problem is compounded when the sickness is brought in to an area with high numbers of unvaccinated people. As Dr. Martin Cetron of the CDC said to the New York Times, “[s]uddenly the single introduction of a case can have explosive consequences.” This is the situation currently occurring in New York City. The Washington Post reports “285 measles cases have been recorded in Brooklyn and Queens over the past six months, most of them in the Orthodox Jewish communities, where there has been reluctance to vaccinate children…The outbreak in the area has been tied to a child who had not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and contracted the disease during a trip to Israel.” 

While there are some people who for medical reasons cannot receive vaccines, most who choose not to, do so out of fear of negative effects from the incolucation. In a statement New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said, “[t]his outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these [Orthodox Jewish] neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science.” A main concern of parents who do not have their children vaccinated is the belief there is a connection between receiving the shot and getting autism. A large reason for this concern stems from a 1998 study from The Lancet linking the vaccine with autism. However, this study has been debunked, as the American Academy of Pediatrics states it “was retracted and many more [studies] have found no increased risk.” Yet, an anti-vaccine movement continues today and spreads its word through social media. The Vaccine Safety Handbook is a magazine targeted at ultra-orthodox Jews and as the New York Times reports contains “false warnings that vaccines cause autism and contain cells from aborted human fetuses…It is our belief that there is no greater threat to public health than vaccines.” Magazines such as this and fliers with similar ideas spread throughout these neighborhoods spreading rumors which have been proven false over and over again. 

It is certainly not all Orthodox Jews or all people of any community that do not vaccinate. As Fox News reports, “Dr. Sruly Zyskind, a pediatrician in Brooklyn…whose patients are predominantly Orthodox Jews, said most of his patients are immunized, and their parents are concerned about the outbreak. There are some [in the community] who have been influenced by anti-vaxxers, but they are a small, very small, minority.” Still according to the Hill, the large amount of affected children in these neighborhoods and the parents who do acknowledge that they are not having their children vaccinated has led New York State legislators to call for legislation “to end non-medical exemptions vaccinations for school-aged children.”


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