Disneyland Measles Outbreak Reignites Vaccination Debate

January 25, 2015 Updated: January 25, 2015

A measles outbreak at Disneyland last month has now led to 85 cases in seven states. Health officials blame unvaccinated individuals for spreading the disease, though it is unclear exactly with whom the outbreak began. Of the 34 cases originally identified in southern California with a clear vaccination history, 28 had not been vaccinated.

Though some come close, vaccines don’t offer 100 percent immunity for a lifetime. There are always some kids who get the vaccination and still become infected. Some health experts believe catching and overcoming some disease provides better immunity.

Barbara Loe Fisher at the National Vaccine Information Center wrote on the center’s website: “Americans born before 1957 have naturally acquired immunity to measles and we passed antibodies on to our babies when they were born to protect them from measles during the first year of life. Because naturally acquired measles antibodies are different from vaccine antibodies, young vaccinated Moms today cannot give longer lasting naturally acquired measles antibodies to their newborns.”

At the other end of the debate are officials who fear an epidemic because more parents want off the vaccination bandwagon. A spokesman for the California health department told Reuters “that unvaccinated individuals have been the principal factor” of the Disneyland outbreak.

Despite renewed pressure from doctors and health officials to get children vaccinated, many parents around the world remain wary. In some cases, complications from the medicine have proved far worse than the disease.

Minor problems associated with vaccines include headache, stomach pain, and diarrhea following immunization. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), vaccines can also cause serious side effects, though incidents are rare. The CDC estimates about 1 person in 100, within 6 months of vaccination report symptoms such as blood in the urine or stool, pneumonia, and inflammation of the stomach or intestines. Other reactions to measles vaccine reported in medical literature include neurological dysfunction, encephalitis, blindness, aseptic meningitis, seizures, paralysis, and death.

Most people who catch measles recover in a few weeks.

Last September in northwestern Syria, a measles vaccination administered through a U.N.-sponsored program resulted in at least 15 deaths and 50 sickened. The U.N. characterized the incident as a “bungled immunization.” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said medics may have accidentally mixed a high-dose muscle relaxant into the vaccine.

While unvaccinated American children may have exacerbated the recent outbreak, officials believe a Disneyland visitor traveling from outside the United States introduced the virus to the population. Measles remain common in some parts of Asia, Africa, and other underdeveloped regions of the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease is particularly severe “among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.”

Most people who catch measles recover in a few weeks. Although the disease can be fatal; according to WHO, “more than 95 percent of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures.”

Measles is a contagious respiratory virus characterized by coughing, runny nose, and a blotchy red rash. Once a very common childhood illness, measles had virtually disappeared in the United States by 2000. But the disease shows signs of a comeback: 644 U.S. cases were reported in 2014.

*Image of vaccination via Shutterstock

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