If you want to quantify the alarming impact of the anti-vaccine movement, the chart above is a good place to start. It plots the cumulative number of new measles cases by month, for each year from 2001 to 2014.
There were 644 new measles cases in 27 states last year, according to the CDC. That’s the biggest annual number we’ve seen in nearly a quarter-century. The vast majority of people who contracted the disease were unvaccinated, including the dozens of cases related to an outbreak at Disneyland in Orange County, California, which is basically Ground Zero in our current epidemic of anti-vaccine hysteria.
A 2014 AP-GfK survey found that only 51 percent of Americans were confident that vaccines are safe and effective, which is similar to the proportion who believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts. I don’t need to make the case about how harmful these beliefs are — it’s been done plenty of times before, and moreover studies show that arguing with anti-vaxxers only makes them more confident in their beliefs.
But the latest CDC data illustrate the troubling resurgence of a disease that, as of 2000, had been declared eliminated. Anti-vaxxers are quite literally turning back the clock on decades of public health progress.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases, with one person being able to infect about 18 people on average. It requires vaccination rates approaching 94% in order for herd immunity to protect those with poor immune systems and the unvaccinated.
The science denialists stay healthy because of the herd immunity provided by others. The vaccinated protect them in their selfishness.
But, there are now too many of them, lowering herd immunity below the point of protection. Besides infecting themselves, they also weaken the protection for those least able to fight off the disease.
It might be arguable that science denialists can selfishly put their children at risk (I would not make that argument, though). But their sociopathic behavior puts the lives of many others at risk.
And it permits a disease to spread which should not.
All this started by allowing religious exemptions to vaccinations. In my opinion, when religion confronts science, science wins. People can be free to be selfish science denialists. But they should not be free to hurt others with their selfishness.
A retreat into Cargo Cult World should not pull the rest of us in.
We all have to give up a little autonomy to survive and thrive in the world we inhabit. And vaccinations are part of that. In order to protect all of us, some of us may have to make an accommodation.
No vaccination, no school. Only medical exemptions. The religious beliefs of a few should not be permitted to hurt others.
Look at that chart and try to understand just how rapidly this can get out of control. These selfish people want to take us back to a time when thousands died every year.
Playing Russian Roulette with disease is simply not something a society should embrace.