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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

In Our View: Misinformation to blame for measles comeback

The Columbian
Published: March 7, 2024, 6:03am

For decades, Americans have had little reason to fear measles.

Because of widespread vaccines that are safe and effective, the disease was considered eliminated from the United States in 2000. But thanks to years of misinformation, a gullible public and the politicization of vaccines, measles are making a comeback.

The situation reflects absurdly willful ignorance from large segments of the population. We are a poorer nation for it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 in 20 children with measles contract pneumonia; one in 10 develop ear infections, which can result in permanent hearing loss; approximately 1 in 1,000 will have the infection spread to their brain, which can result in irreversible neurological damage; and approximately 3 in 1,000 will die.

Writes Dr. Leana S. Wen for The Washington Post: “There is also a rare but terrifying neurological disease that could occur years after someone recovers from measles in which individuals go through months of personality changes and depression, followed by blindness, dementia and uncontrollable jerking and writhing. This condition progressively damages the brain, eventually affecting the parts that control breathing and blood pressure and causing coma and death.”

All of which makes the State of Florida’s response to an ongoing outbreak particularly disturbing. In Broward County, six students at a single elementary school recently became infected with measles; two other cases have been reported in the county. And still, state Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo told parents they may continue sending unvaccinated children who have been exposed to school.

Unvaccinated students clearly are at risk. But even those who have been vaccinated are endangered; vaccines are effective at preventing disease but are imperfect.

Not only is measles dangerous, particularly for children, it is highly contagious. And as the virus has a revival in the United States, it reflects a strident foolishness that is undermining our country.

Clark County has experienced that in recent years. In 2019, the county saw 71 confirmed cases of measles, making it one of the centers for a national outbreak.

The Legislature, in a bill led by Southwest Washington lawmakers Paul Harris, Monica Stonier and Annette Cleveland, responded by removing personal beliefs as a valid exemption for the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine for schoolchildren. Religious and medical exemptions are still allowed.

At the time, Gov. Jay Inslee said: “In Washington state we believe in our doctors. We believe in our nurses. We believe in our educators. We believe in science and we love our children. And that is why in Washington state, we are against measles.”

Other states, however, are willing to risk a measles outbreak in a bizarre stance of political purity against science. That stance has been emboldened by years of misinformation that echoes fraudulent studies suggesting the common MMR vaccine is dangerous.

We would expect that elected officials and the health officers they appoint would understand this. But the best defense against such quackery is an informed public.

That does not mean doing research at the “University of Google.” It means understanding that dozens of peer-reviewed studies have determined that measles vaccines are safe. It means being aware of the dangers of a measles outbreak. It means using common sense to protect our children and the children of our neighbors.

As Florida is finding out, a lack of common sense can be costly.

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