It's not quite six weeks into 2019, and it's already looking like it will be another banner year for measles in the United States. An outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that began in late January continues to spread, with more than 50 cases now being reported.
Meanwhile, Texas health officials on Tuesday confirmed five cases of measles in the Houston area—four of them in children under 2. And health officials in New York are still dealing with an outbreak of measles from late 2018.
The global measles picture is even gloomier. A large and ongoing measles outbreak in the Philippines has killed at least 50 people, and may have spread to Australia. Nearly 12,000 measles cases have been reported in the Ukraine in the first month of 2019. And more than 28,000 cases have been reported in Madagascar since 2018. New cases are popping up all the time.
All in all, in just the last few years there has been a 30 percent increase in measles worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
How has this disease that was once considered all but eliminated in the U.S. and other developed nations, surged back to life? According to international health officials, the same anti-vaccination fear-mongering that has been at work in the U.S is contributing to a decline in vaccination rates, and measles outbreaks around the world.
This distrust of vaccinations—which is all too common in the United States as well—is easily spread over social media, where a debate rages about whether the medicines themselves are dangerous. One persistent but entirely groundless fear is that vaccines cause autism. There's no data to back up that assertion, and there is scientific evidence—quite a lot of it—showing that vaccinations save lives. But the narrative is durable particularly because the threat of measles—which has been virtually absent for a generation—is to many people more distant than autism.
Around the world, too many people seem to believe that vaccinations don't really matter any more. Loose vaccination rules contribute to that sense. But those attitudes must change. Parents need to understand that vaccines save lives.