It seems to me that we have a lot of the story yet to tell.
– Walt Disney
In the 1900s, the development of vaccines was applauded by scientists and the public alike as widespread immunization successfully combated a range of infectious diseases that had for centuries stricken enormous numbers of people.
As the newness of these preventative medicines faded – and as a product of the success of the vaccines at combating infectious disease – the risks and safety of the vaccines themselves came under fire in the 1980s. Although widespread immunization programs persisted and continued to grow, this antivaccination sentiment would also grow to contribute to the under-immunization problems of today.
A multitude of strategies launching mass immunization programs in the last two decades of the 20th century in the United States were able to raise immunization levels among the American population and measles outbreaks dwindled. In 2000, the CDC triumphantly declared measles eliminated from the United States.
In 2014, an outbreak of measles in Anaheim would expose failures in current immunization programs and pockets of highly underimmunized clustered in certain communities. Frenzy among public health officials prompts a call for action to address outbreaks of this infectious disease.
In response to the 2014 outbreak and to calls for better protection by public health officials, Senator Pan and Senator Allen under the sponsorship of Vaccinate California wrote a bill, SB277, to get rid of personal belief exemptions.
By not allowing children to attend public or private school without proper immunization, public health officials and interest groups hope to discourage clusters of under-immunized populations and finally eradicate measles in the United States – giving it a place in history along with smallpox and polio.
As SB 277 moves through the California Legislature we can focus on the remaining questions in the measles story. What further implications does mandatory vaccinations have on California going forward?
- Due to the notion that immigrants, as well as the uninsured, attend schools, where do finances come for them to pay for vaccinations?
- Does this put an undue burden on homeschooling systems?
- Is it discriminatory to keep some children out of public schools, schools presumably funded by their parents’ taxpayer money?
- Even if immunization is controlled in California, how do we control for the influx of measles from travels entering the United States–many who may infect Americans who are unvaccinated due to medical exemptions?
Overall we hope that the WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund, and Pan American Health Organization will work with all the nations to bring up immunization rates globally. This problem must involve cooperation between parents, schools, government, larger organizations, and health care providers to increase vaccination rates and decrease harmful pockets of unvaccinated people. We know that measles has the ability to be eliminated: now its our turn to make sure no more people will die from measles.
For further exploration, check out Bloomberg’s interactive graphic on measles in the US.