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Make America Measles-Free, Again

The Disease, Once Eradicated, Is Making a Comeback

Measles, a virus that invades the nose and throat, causing fever, cough and phlegm, is one of the most contagious pathogens on the planet. Before 1963, it infected some four million people every year in the United States alone. Nearly 50,000 of them would land in the hospital with complications like severe diarrhea, pneumonia and brain inflammation that sometimes resulted in lifelong disability. Of the 500 or so patients who died from these complications each year, most were children younger than 5.

Until recently, those numbers were a matter of history. The measles vaccine, which was introduced to the United States in 1963, drove the annual case count from four million to zero inside of four decades. Measles was officially eradicated in America in 2000 and was largely wiped from our collective memory soon after.

But in the shadow of that memory lapse, a different virus has spread: anti-vaccine propaganda and vaccine misinformation. Both have persuaded a small but growing number of parents that vaccines designed to inoculate against infectious diseases pose a greater health risk than the diseases themselves. As a result, these parents are skipping crucial shots for their children. And as the number of unvaccinated children grows, some vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has logged at least six measles outbreaks so far this year, across five states, involving more than 100 patients. In recent weeks, as those numbers have ticked upward, both houses of Congress have held hearings to discuss the issue, while more states have considered limiting vaccine exemptions for school-age children and several prominent social media platforms have pledged to block anti-vaccine propaganda and vaccine misinformation from their sites.

For a while, it was easy to dismiss the nation’s anti-vaccine contingent. The vast majority of Americans still recognize vaccines as a crucial element of personal and public health. Some 92 percent of vaccine-eligible people in the United States have been inoculated against measles, and nearly as many have had shots to protect against the other vaccine-preventable diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

But the new rash of outbreaks has made clear that even small pockets of vaccine hesitancy and refusal can have grave consequences. And health officials say that if left unchecked, this outbreak crisis will only worsen.

The steps taken in recent weeks mark a good start to addressing a problem that can no longer be ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper