Thursday, February 05, 2015

Measles in 2015? Go figure

Who knew that measles would become a hot-button issue (or any kind of an issue, frankly) in 2015?
Measles has been eradicated in North America since 2002 (2000 in the USA), but now we are seeing an outbreak of well over 100 cases in the USA (92 of them in California, centred around Disneyworld, and most recently a mini-outbreak affecting 5 babies in suburban Chicago), as well as 4 disparate and apparently unrelated cases in Canada.
The outbreak appears to be a direct result of the declining rates of vaccinations, paradoxically particularly in affluent, college-educated pockets of the population, rather than among less-educated, lower-income, working class families. Some of the lowest vaccination rates (below 50%) can be found in those small, right-on, "alternative" schools that are so popular among wealthy urban elite types. These people maybe be educated and well-read, but what they are reading is unfortunately garbage.
Much of this backlash against vaccination among segments of the privileged classes stems from a misguided but well-meant attempt to limit the "toxins" to which a child is exposed, and it feeds on myriad reports on the Interwebs linking vaccinations in general to all manner of mental disorders. In particular, may people still believe that vaccinations can cause autism, in the wake of a fraudulent and thoroughly discredited 1998 paper by British researcher Andrew Wakefield (who has since been barred from practicing medicine). A depressing recent survey in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario revealed that one-in-five people still believe this (and an additional one-in-five were not sure).
As for the inanity of "measles parties" and homeopathic nosodes, don't even get me started!
Just this week, two likely US Republican candidates, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, have expressed their ambivalence towards vaccination, and then been forced to hastily retract their views in the face of strong criticism and public opinion. The other main contender, Jeb Bush, was better advised and claimed, whatever his actual view, to support vaccination programs. On the Democratic side, both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton both strongly support vaccinations. For many Republicans, it is an issue of individual liberties and personal choice, health risks and moral responsibility be damned.
Others, especially in in the Republican Bible Belt, object to vaccinations on religions grounds, preferring to rely on the power of prayer and the protection of a benevolent God instead (yeah, right!). This kind of sanctimonious claptrap (of which this and this are just two examples among many) is rife on the Internet, and apparently many supposedly educated and well-read people just lap this stuff up. The vast majority of US states, adopting their usual position of bending over backwards to respect religious views, however bizarre or abhorrent, allow parents to opt out of otherwise mandatory vaccinations for religious reasons, thus putting their own children (and those of others) at risk.
This, of course, is to say nothing of the even nastier attitudes common in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, where outbreaks of otherwise-eradicated polio and measles occur regularly due to the anti-vaccination activities of the Taliban and Boko Haram. Another victory for organized religion.

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