Washington Measles Outbreak Shows Anti-vaxxers Are Literally Making Us Sick | Opinion

The State of Washington has declared an emergency because of a measles outbreak in Clark County, which is across the river from Portland, Oregon. To the surprise of no one, the outbreak has occurred, almost exclusively, among the unvaccinated. The motivation of those who refuse to vaccinate their children—whether it is fear, ideology, or thoughtlessness—is irrelevant. They are putting the safety of thousands of people at risk.

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known. According to the CDC, a person can be infectious even before the characteristic rash or symptoms appears. Worse still, others who are either not vaccinated or those with insufficient immunity because the vaccine has worn off can contract the infection by simply walking into a room two hours after an infected person has left.

And, despite the claims of anti-vaxxers, who call it "Mickey Mouse measles," it is not a harmless disease. According to the World Health Organization, 110,000 people die every year, mostly children under the age of five. Prior to the vaccine, the U.S. also experienced the horror of measles. The CDC reports that in the 1910s, about 6,000 Americans died annually from the infection.

Measles cases recorded by the CDC in the U.S. since the year 2002. Statista

In a sense, the measles vaccine is a victim of its own success. Just how successful? It is estimated that, since the year 2000, the lives of roughly 20 million people have been saved because of the measles vaccine. The measles vaccine—and vaccines in general—are a public health triumph of epic proportions. This once-feared infection, which was declared eradicated from the U.S. in 2000, had largely vanished from public awareness.

Yet, inexplicably, our society has turned its back on this life-saving innovation.

Anti-vaxxers claim that if vaccines are so effective, the unvaccinated have nothing to worry about. This is a malicious lie. No vaccine is 100% effective, and many can wear off over time. Additionally, some children cannot be vaccinated because they are either too young—the vaccine is not given before age 12 months—or too sick (for instance, immunocompromised) to receive vaccines. These children rely on the rest of us to protect them, a concept known in public health as "herd immunity."

The purposeful misinformation that pollutes the Internet is categorically wrong; there is no valid reason whatsoever to avoid fully vaccinating your child according to the CDC's recommended schedule.

Vaccines do not cause autism. This theory, which was spawned by a fraudulent get-rich scheme in the 1990s, has been shown repeatedly to be without any merit. Another fear, that there are "too many" vaccines, is also false. When your child crawls around on the floor licking his hands, he is exposed to far more antigens than those found in all vaccines combined. He is inadvertently "vaccinating" himself all day long.

The argument that vaccination policy violates individual rights is also a fallacy. There are no absolute rights. The old saying "the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" is correct. Similarly, the right of anti-vaxxers to be sick ends where the public's right to health begins.

Dr. Alex Berezow is Vice President of Scientific Affairs, and Dr. Josh Bloom is the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science at the American Council on Science and Health in New York.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.​​​​​​

The graphic for this article was provided by Statista.

baby measles vaccine
Stock photo of a baby with measles. Anti-vaxxers place children too young to be immunized at risk of disease. iStock