Things that bother me range from temporary irritant to existential threat. But I can’t always tell the difference. At the top of the list for today is the measles. The recent outbreak of the disease centered at Disneyland in California has highlighted the fact that significant numbers of parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Measles has been considered eradicated in the United States, but we live in a highly connected world and the disease is back. The New York Times reports that “in 2014, there were 644 cases in 27 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Should the pace set in January continue, the numbers could go still higher in 2015.”
Success of immunization programs for infectious diseases depends on “herd immunity”. Vaccination rates have to be high (95% or more) to protect the population. It is difficult for me, at least, to determine the actual vaccination rate in the US and I believe that most and hopefully 95% of the population at present supports vaccinations. Apparently though there are pockets, notably in California, of anti-vaccination where the vaccination rates have declined to less than 90%.
How this anti-vaccination stuff got started I don’t know. There was a study in the Lancet, a respected medical journal, some years ago that supposedly tied vaccinations to autism. The study has been decisively refuted and even declared fraudulent. The Lancet subsequently retracted the study and the author was stripped of his medical license. But somehow the idea of a causal connection between vaccines and autism survives and even flourishes. The New York Times published a major report on the subject of the anti-vaccination true-believers on February 1 and WebMD has seen the need to produce a special report on the matter.
But now the issue has become politicized. On Monday (Feb 2) I read that Chris Christie, Governor of NJ and 2016 presidential aspirant, has been ambiguous in his statements about vaccinations. This trend in the debate threatens to “weaken the social consensus in favor of vaccination” and transform “…a public health issue into a matter of partisan allegiance…” according to another New York Times report.
This is a legitimate public policy issue that I thought had been resolved years ago. Vaccination requirements have been based on sound scientific and medical research over many years. Public policy judgments on such subjects should continue to be based on sound scientific reasoning. If Christie feels a need to weasel-word on the issue it is probably a good indication of the numbers of misguided people in this country who think vaccinations should be a matter of choice. Having “choice” is great for purchasing the next generation TV or smartphone, but really, really inappropriate for deciding whether or not to vaccinate your children.