Megan Snow ‘20
As vaccination rates go down, risk of contracting diseases go up, and unfortunately, Massachusetts, as well as many other states have witnessed this first hand during the first few months of 2019. In the first week of April, a confirmed case of measles was identified by Massachusetts health officials. During the infectious period, the individual had traveled to various establishments in Waltham, Braintree, and Plymouth.
According to the CDC, measles was eradicated from the U.S. in 2000, yet cases have been slowly popping up over time. So far, 465 individual cases have been identified in 19 different states. How is this happening?
New York state has seen a tremendous increase of measles outbreaks this year, especially in Orthodox-Jewish communities. Many individuals in these communities are against vaccination for religious reasons and refuse vaccines for themselves and their children. Although New York accepts religious exemption for vaccines in children, this still allows the disease to spread very easily in these communities.
Herd immunity is when a certain percentage of people in the community are vaccinated to protect the entire community from contracting diseases. When large enough amounts of people refuse vaccination, herd immunity is no longer an effective way of protection, putting the community at risk of spreading diseases. It seems like a very easy fix: vaccination.
So why are people refusing vaccination?
There are various reasons why people are choosing not to get vaccinated, including: religious reasons, personal morals, or medical reasons. Generally, individuals who cannot get vaccinations due to medical reasons are protected by herd immunity created by everyone else who gets vaccinated. As herd immunity decreases, their risk of contracting diseases is increased.
Many states allow religious and personal exemption from vaccination, giving individuals a freedom of choice for their health, but those who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons are limited in their health choices.
Measles is an extremely contagious disease, which is why all children are required to receive the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine before entering school. Measles is airborne and can be contracted when entering an area where an infected individual coughed up to 2 hours after they leave.
Although a lack of vaccination threatens herd immunity, that’s not the only threat. Individuals who travel and have not received the MMR vaccination are extremely susceptible to contracting and bring back the disease to the United States.
The easiest way to avoid contracting measles is by getting vaccinated. Health officials advise individuals who think they have measles to call their primary care physician instead of walking into the clinic itself.