By LAUREN MAINGOT
An outbreak of measles in the Pacific Northwest is averaging more than one new case a day according to state health officials, intensifying their push for parents to vaccinate their children.
On Jan. 22, a public health emergency was declared in Clark County, Wash., a metropolitan area near Portland, Ore., with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. Most of the 49 confirmed cases as of Monday were unvaccinated children under the age of 10, according to Clark County officials.
The highly contagious disease has reemerged in anti-vaccination hot spots over the past several years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 10 states have reported measles cases in 2019, mostly in and around cities where families choose not to vaccinate for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.“If you have a population that is unvaccinated, it’s like throwing a match into a can of gasoline,” Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s public health director, told The New York Times. “And immunization rates have been dropping.”
The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is 93 percent effective at preventing the virus according to epidemiologists, and measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 as a result of its high effectiveness. Before the vaccine’s introduction in 1963, there were four million measles cases in the U.S. each year, with its victims experiencing high fever, cough, and signature rash. Untreated cases can lead to encephalitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain that can cause permanent neurological damage.
Seventeen states, many of which are now experiencing outbreaks, allow parents to exempt their children from vaccination for unspecified personal reasons. Some parents who choose to take part in the anti-vaccination movement are concerned that vaccines can trigger autism, a theory debunked by medical professionals according to The New York Times.
Multiple media outlets have been covering the increasingly frequent outbreaks across the U.S. and world as they arise. Top stories include the 64 reported cases in New York’s Orthodox Jew community in late 2018 and reports of the highest level of measles in Europe since the 1990s. The extensive coverage is an indicator of the overall breakdown of “herd immunity” to measles.
The New York Times has featured articles explaining the science and importance of vaccines, and CBS News further explained the ineffectiveness of various home remedies like the over-consumption of Vitamin A.
In addition to emphasizing statistics that strongly encourage vaccination and referring to sources criticizing weak vaccination policy, these stories are an example of news companies using their influence as a catalyst for political change, adding pressure to state legislators to take a stronger stance on the issue.