MINOT, N.D. - “Measles Count in US This Year Already More Than All of 2018” is a headline which popped up in my feeds this week.
It was not an April Fool’s prank (a holiday feels a bit superfluous in the strange days of 2019).
The headline is real news from The Associated Press. “The number of U.S. measles cases through the first three months of this year have surpassed the count for all of 2018, health officials say,” the organization reports.
There’s no need for this. According to the CDC, the vaccine for measles is 97 percent effective. The problem is fewer people are getting vaccinated. “Most people who get measles have not been vaccinated,” the AP reports.
Let’s bring this ugly news home.
“Increasing exemption rates leave North Dakota schools vulnerable to outbreaks caused by vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps, or pertussis,” Jenny Galbraith, an epidemiologist who works for the North Dakota Department of Health, said in a recent news release.
“An MMR coverage rate of 95 percent is recommended to maintain herd immunity in schools and prevent cases and outbreaks. Outbreaks have become more commonplace in the United States due to low vaccination rates and the ease of travel,” she continued.
The thing is, North Dakota is not at a 95 percent rate for the MMR vaccine. While the vaccination rate has been improving in recent years, it’s still at just 93.67 percent which is down slightly from last year.
Meanwhile, the number of North Dakotans opting their children out of vaccinations is rising. A decade ago, the percentage of children exempted for personal beliefs was at just 1.08 percent, while the number of religious exemptions was at 0.1 percent.
In the 2018-2019 school year those rates are at 3.08 and 0.85 percent, respectively.
The good news is, absent some medical reason (exemptions for which aren’t included in the numbers I cited above), most parents are vaccinating their children.
The bad news is the number of parents who have bought into the anti-vaccination fervor spread through internet memes, grossly inaccurate films, and the pontifications of dunderheaded celebrities is growing.
Perhaps, not coincidentally, this war on sound medical practice has corresponded with rising interest in flat earth theories.
Unlike the flat earthers, the anti-vaccination crowd present a real risk to the rest of us. One that eschews traditional social and political lines. Liberal Hollywood celebrities and right-wing religious zealots are both prone to rants against vaccination.
Even in my circle of friends I’ve seen granola-eating hippies make common cause with anti-government right wingers when it comes to the question of vaccinating.
We live in an era of growing distrust in institutions, and given how everyone from politicians to billionaire tech executives behave, I get it.
But vaccinations are based on well established, thoroughly vetted medical science which has served us well for generations.
Every healthy American who can vaccinate should vaccinate, not just for the sake of their own health but for the sake of protecting those among us who can’t for medical reasons.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.