The Source: Vaccines Back In Spotlight As Measles Outbreak Continues
Since the measles outbreak began in December, 121 people have been affected by the virus. The illness has continued to spread, reaching three new states--11 in all--not including Washington, D.C., as of this week.
The outbreak has fueled many discussions on vaccinations, parental responsibilities, and the virus itself. Measles is clearly a threat, as 1/1000 affected may die and 1/500 children with measles could lose their hearing. Unlike many other viruses, measles is a respiratory virus with 90-99% infectivity, making it especially contagious. Across the world, 400 children die from measles every day. Though the outbreak has yet to affect San Antonio, there is great concern in every community about its spread.
What does the return of measles mean for parents? Should parents be legally obligated to vaccinate their children?
Previous thought has relied on the herd immunity model. This theory argues that by having enough of a population vaccinated against diseases, the few people who do not have immunity will be protected, including the immuno-suppressed and children under 12 months. Even when vaccinated, immunity is not guaranteed. The measles vaccine only has 98% immunity, meaning that 2/100 kids may still become sick.
Is herd immunity still valid? Some argue that because of the recent increase in parents avoiding vaccinations, a critical mass of non-immune people has been reached. Because the number of non-immune people has become so large, the protection offered by the “herd” of vaccinated citizens becomes invalid. This may explain how a measles outbreak was possible despite modern medicine.
What does this mean for the future of vaccines and diseases? What do people need to know?
- Dr. Thomas Mayes, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio