It's only three months into 2014, and New York City is seeing an outbreak of measles — a disease thought almost completely eradicated in 2000. The outbreak is centered in northern Manhattan, where five people have already been hospitalized. A dozen more were sent to hospitals after an outbreak in L.A. Over half were intentionally not vaccinated.
Measles isn't some minor inconvenience to be shrugged off. It is highly contagious and causes rashes, fevers, sinus and throat problems, and spots on the tongue. One in 1,000 measles patients suffers inflammation of the throat, and 1-3 per 1,000 die as a result of their infection. But the anti-vaccination movement is largely to blame in this case. Writes Dr. Russell Saunders on The Daily Beast:
This is sheer lunacy. Just over a dozen years ago this illness was considered eliminated in our country, and this year people are being hospitalized for it. All due to the hysteria about a safe, effective vaccine. All based on nothing.
This map from the Council on Foreign Relations shows the damage the anti-vaccination movement has done to public health, with widespread outbreaks of easily-preventable whooping cough and measles sweeping the U.S.:
It might seem incomprehensible that parents would intentionally keep their children from receiving vaccines that prevent serious illnesses. Measles, for example, causes serious complications in one in 20 children. The measles vaccine causes serious complications in just one or two children for every million that receive it. But thanks to a discredited and formally retracted study submitted by Dr. A.J. Wakefield that linked vaccines to autism, millions of parents believe that they're protecting their children from developing a psychological condition. Every single major public health organization in the world has denied the vaccine-autism link, but that's just not good enough for some people.
Celebrity spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy is one of the most outspoken opponents of vaccination, calling herself a "mother warrior" and claiming that the miniscule amounts of mercury in vaccines cause autism. Others, like Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his wife, former reality TV show star Kristen Cavallari, arejust the latest high-profile members of this burgeoning movement.
The Center for Disease Control argues that 80% of measles cases in 2013 happened in the unvaccinated population. Some 80% of those people cited "philosophical differences" as the reason they never protected themselves against disease.
So if you're looking for someone to blame when measles re-appears in your city, look no further than the anti-vaccination movement.