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Why the outbreak of measles at Disneyland is important to your family

February 02, 2015

Over the Christmas holiday, a person who was carrying the measles virus visited Disneyland. Five park employees and dozens of visitors then became ill. The outbreak has ballooned to include not only people who visited Disneyland but also people who came into contact with those individuals. So far this year, 84 people in 14 states have been infected with measles, and this number continues to rise.

The majority of those who have contracted the illness were not vaccinated. Although the measles vaccine has been available since 1963, vaccination rates have declined in recent years (California has one of the lowest vaccination rates), and the number of measles cases in the U.S. has skyrocketed.

What we’ve forgotten about measles

Measles may not frighten you as much as other diseases you hear about in the news these days, but that has more to do with psychology than science. It makes a more sensational news story to ponder how a newly discovered virus from far away might ravage our society than to remind us how fortunate we are to have nearly eliminated the diseases that plagued the society of our grandparents and great-grandparents.

We forget that measles was once a formidable foe. One out of 10 children with measles will get an ear infection, a complication that can result in permanent hearing loss. One out of 20 children with measles will get pneumonia, the complication most likely to cause death. Can you imagine sitting in a hospital room with your child hooked to IV poles and a ventilation tube down their throat sustaining their life because they cannot breathe on their own? The very thought is more than we can bear, but that is what measles looks like when you’re one of the unfortunate ones that suffers a complication.

Even if you don’t suffer a complication, the measles are simply miserable. Ask a doctor who’s seen a case of the measles- these children are inconsolable.

We forget the impact that a disease such as measles can have because we haven’t had to experience it. And we haven’t experienced it because of the advances science and medicine have brought us in the form of vaccines.

What we must remember as we move forward

We must remember that we are fortunate to live in a time and a place where we are afforded protection from illnesses that could otherwise take a heavy toll. Vaccines have saved millions of lives, but these vaccines can only continue to save lives if we continue to vaccinate. The outbreak at Disneyland would most assuredly not have taken place if the people who were eligible for vaccination would have been vaccinated. The children who are too young to receive the vaccine or the people who have a medical reason not to be vaccinated would have been protected by the immunity of others, if the others had been vaccinated.

We must remember to make decisions based on medical science, not on fear, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. Somehow the false narrative of a big, bad drug company trying to poison our children with harmful chemicals while doctors look on in quiet, simpleminded complicity is a much more exciting storyline than the truth. It would make for a good movie, I’ll give you that, but it just isn’t the reality.

The truth is that you have a lot of well-meaning parents who are trying to do the best they can for their children, but they are victims of bad information. These parents are preyed upon by a very small minority of healthcare professionals and others who have chosen popularity over scientific evidence. And the reason this very small minority’s voice is so loud is that they have effectively harnessed the most powerful tool on the planet: fear.

For the sake of our families and all of those in our global community, we must remember that vaccines save lives.

To find out more information about vaccines, visit the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.