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June 14 2019

Policy Focus: Vaccines and Measles Outbreaks

by Julie Gunlock

In June 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 1,022 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the highest number since 1994. Public health officials are scrambling to contain the disease and educate the public about the importance and safety of vaccines.
 
The CDC has tracked the origin of each of these outbreaks to an unvaccinated individual who travelled outside the United States, contracted the disease, and then returned home infected, spreading the disease among the community.
 
This has put a spotlight on the anti-vaccine movement in America, which in recent years—with the advent of the Internet, 24-7 news programming, and social media—has grown exponentially.
 
The origins of the modern anti-vaccine movement can be traced to 1998, when a British doctor published a fraudulent research study claiming the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) was linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder. News of this study (which was later retracted), coupled with a growing number of public figures spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, created anxiety among parents. The result: fewer parents were vaccinating their kids.
 
This dip in vaccination rates has damaged the nation’s “herd immunity,” which occurs when a large portion of the population is vaccinated, thereby hampering the diseases’ ability to find a host. With measles, herd immunity is only achieved when at least 90-95 percent of the population is vaccinated. Without robust herd immunity, certain individuals who cannot receive vaccinations (e.g. newborns) will be left vulnerable to these dangerous diseases.
 

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