Confirmed measles cases in US tops 150

By Phil Plait | June 21, 2011 10:47 am

The number of confirmed cases of measles in the United States stands, as of this moment, at 152.

That’s twice as many cases as usually seen in a year, and it’s only June.

Why so many? In the article linked above, it’s made clear: parents aren’t vaccinating their kids. The reasons for that are numerous: religious exemptions, anti-vaccination propaganda, ignorance, or perhaps even just laziness. But the bottom line is that kids are getting sick.

And if you don’t think measles is that big a deal, watch this:

That is one of many stories from people who have dealt with their children getting sick… and some who have had their children die. The website Shot by Shot gives the very human and all-too-often tragic side of what happens when people don’t vaccinate. The site is put together by the wonderful people at California Immunization Coalition.

The leaders of the antivaccination movement say they speak out because they care about the children. When I see stories like these, from parents who are destroyed by the loss or serious illness of the children, I question those antivaccination advocates. And we know that when trying to sway opinion, just stating facts rarely works against antiscience claims like those of antivaxxers. I’m hoping that more parents see stories like the ones at Shot by Shot. We have the facts on our side, but we also need to touch these parents’ hearts before they’ll see the truth.

Thanks to my friend and one of my heroes, Dr. Joe Albietz, for the link to these stories.


Related posts:

- How to be inoculated against antivax conventions
- Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it
- Pertussis and measles are coming back
- Antivaxxer Mark Geier has license revoked in Maryland

MORE ABOUT: antivaxx, measles

Comments (39)

  1. Thanks for this, BA. I will share it widely.

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. This is what more people who are ambivalent about or even hostile toward vaccines need to see. I wish they didn’t, but unfortunately, I don’t know what else would really work with some of them. This makes it real.

  3. MattF

    There are a handful of parents in our neighborhood who proclaim proudly that they did not vaccinate their children, and that they have no regrets for not doing so. I will try to find a way to share this with them gently, but urgently. Thank you for the pointer, Dr. Plait.

  4. I was held up from starting grad school because I had to get blood tests to prove I had measles immunity, which I didn’t, so I had to get a booster shot and another blood test. Universities don’t mess around with measles, even for 40 yr olds who don’t live on campus.

  5. In my childhood, measles, mumps, chicken pox, and rubella vaccines did not exist. I had them all. Anyone who thinks that just because they were considered “childhood diseases” back then that meant they were mild, is seriously deluding themselves. The most miserable memories I have of my childhood are going through those illnesses. Fortunately, I – and other members of my family – survived them without any lasting harm, but the chance was there. That today’s children could – and can be – spared from the same memories I have, and that their parents misguidedly refuse to immunize them is infuriating.

  6. Digital Atheist

    @3 MattF

    I sincerely hope those people never have a reason to regret not getting their kids vaccinated. My mother was born before the polio vaccine came around and she caught it quite young. Now in her 80′s she has had a life time of health problems caused by that. I also have another friend who caught it as a child and has been confined to a wheel chair for years now. Neither my mother of my friend would advocate avoiding vaccines. Try to stress to the people you mention that this are diseases that can have life time consequences for their children.

  7. Ray

    Here’s the CDC page about it.

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6020a7.htm?s_cid=mm6020a7_w

    Looks like nearly 90% of the cases are coming from overseas.

    I question the original article in that it says 40% of parents say they haven’t vaccinated their kids. The CDC says the vaccination rates for measles is 90%. Someone is wrong, but who?

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/measles.htm

  8. Just this morning on NPR, it was announced that Utah has five newly diagnosed cases of measles on top of the previous eight earlier this spring. It makes me furious because I have immune-compromised family members of school age. Those who are not vaccinating are absolutely putting others, not just their own children at terrible risk.

  9. Caleb Jones

    “When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”

    -Blaise Pascal

    Bottom line, if you want any hope in showing someone that they are wrong, you must first meet them on their terms. That means you have to genuinely find empathy and understanding for their position. Once there, you stand a better chance of explaining your view in a manner they can understand and them likewise acknowledging your perspective/evidence.

    People don’t respond to, “You’re wrong, IDIOT!” or “That’s/You’re stupid.” But they do generally respond to genuineness and evidence provided in a context that is compatible with their perspective.

    Sadly, you have to scratch all of the above for some people. Some people are much more concerned about who is right rather than what is right. You can only do so much for people like that.

  10. Where is the CDC on this? Presumably the people who monitor disease patterns would advise their superiors, and that would propagate up the chain to whoever has the power to make a recommendation to the White House.

    Should people like us be writing to CDC? I would do it. This is scary.

  11. @gogblog

    The CDC is quite aware of the situation, from what I can tell, and also rather concerned, as are state public health agencies. A better use of your time would likely be contacting your local media stations; get them to cover these stories and highlight what happens when people do not vaccinate. Show them there is an interest in this sort of story. Write to legislators (both state and Federal) to make them aware of your concerns and that this is an important issue to their constituency.

  12. Alan

    But what sympathy can you have? They are idiotic sheep blindly led by the Daily Mail, a doctor who admitted making up his results and a playboy bunny. It isn’t a joke they are killing people and the narrative in the press is sympathetic with them as they feel the need to be balanced. BUT why present balance when one side is saving lives with no long term side effects and the other side are killing people through ignorance? I teach science and I’ve written two lessons into year 7 to cover how to tell when papers are lying to you and to debunk the whole MMR fiasco. I don’t pull punches and dont compromise, you can’t. There isn’t a middle ground here. Sometimes things ARE just right or wrong. We could have wiped out so many other illnesses if it wasn’t for rubbish like this.

  13. Alan

    But what sympathy can you have? They are idiotic sheep blindly led by the Daily Mail, a doctor who admitted making up his results and a playboy bunny. It isn’t a joke they are killing people and the narrative in the press is sympathetic with them as they feel the need to be balanced. BUT why present balance when one side is saving lives with no long term side effects and the other side are killing people through ignorance? I teach science and I’ve written two lessons into year 7 to cover how to tell when papers are lying to you and to debunk the whole MMR fiasco. I don’t pull punches and dont compromise, you can’t. There isn’t a middle ground here. Sometimes things ARE just right or wrong. We could have wiped out so many other illnesses if it wasn’t for rubbish like this.

  14. Calli Arcale

    Todd’s right. The authorities are already well aware of the outbreak, and concerned by it. The people who need to know are, as it happens, also the ones most likely to suffer from it and most likely to increase its magnitude — the unvaccinated, the undervaccinated, and their legal guardians.

  15. EKunsman

    Caleb Jones said: “Bottom line, if you want any hope in showing someone that they are wrong, you must first meet them on their terms.”

    Whenever I debate the death penalty with any one, I find it useless to bring up the possibility of innocence. However, if the person is a Christian, I always bring up the possibility of redemption and bringing the person to Christ. If you kill him, I ask, how is that going to happen? It works. They always tell this atheist that I make a good point.

    My reactions tend to be to walk out of the room or tell the anti-science folks they are idiots, but this issue is too serious. They need to be convinced and telling them they are stupid isn’t going to work.

    And, boy, did I breathe a sigh of relief when my daughter-in-law, in response to my question about vaccinations, went on a tirade about the anti-vaccers and the danger to society these people pose.

  16. Mary

    I attended a public CDC meeting on vaccinations. They had roughly 100 people allowed to sign up. I saw the notice and signed up, afraid it would be full of anti-vaxxers.

    It was. The public health women from my city thanked me for showing up. The anti-vaxxers had activated their bat-signal and filled up almost all of the available spots.

    Where were the science peeps, and the allies? It was very hard to be the only one at my table, and only about 3 other tables had evidence-based individuals too.

    Stop just blogging and commenting, and really get out and support public health people who are trying to hold back this tide please.

  17. As I mentioned in my tweet to you, Mr. Plait, my mother’s sister died while she was in an iron lung with polio only a month or so after giving birth to her daughter. Sadly, her daughter never knew her mother. This all happened before I was born and before there was a polio vaccine, but the fact that I apparently look like my aunt weighs on my mind whenever I read about ‘anti-vaxxers’.

    I can’t help but think what a wonderful life this child would have had with a mother. As it was, the father remarried soon afterwards to start a new family, and gave his firstborn away to be raised by someone else. I can only think it was due to his unbearable pain at losing his wife to polio that he couldn’t bear to look at his daughter. :( And, I have to tell you from what I’ve heard throughout the years, the daughter (my cousin whom I’ve never met) has lived a very troubled and unhappy life.

    There’s a reason why they invented vaccines: to save lives, and to keep people from having to live with severe health consequences. These unsung medical heroes saw what happened to people who went through these terrible diseases, and wanted to help patients avoid the pain (sometimes lifelong), permanent health damage, and death. Perhaps we are far too removed from what patients had to endure and maybe doctors/pediatricians need us (as parents) to watch a documentary on these diseases to become correctly informed and understand WHY vaccines are needed, prior to administrating the shots. I think it would help all parents understand the importance and the necessity of vaccinations.

    Thank you for posting this video. My heart goes out to this mother. She just didn’t know or realize the consequences of her action (or inaction) when she chose not to have her child vaccinated.

  18. James

    @Lisa

    I’m thinking that we are too far removed or the people who are in the anti-vaccine movement are too far removed from having known anyone who suffered from these diseases. They have no one to tell them horrific stories of how whole neighborhoods would be virtually deserted even in the summer when a polio outbreak would hit. Or worse, as you well know.

  19. Michael Swanson

    @13. Alan

    “But what sympathy can you have? They are idiotic sheep…”

    Simple: you have sympathy for their children.

  20. Phil Plait,

    That’s nothing. Auckland, New Zealand currently has 300 students ordered to stay at home due to the largest measles outbreak so far this year in New Zealand.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/5170103/Pupils-ordered-home-in-measles-outbreak

    There’s only a bit over 1 million people in Auckland.

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    And if you don’t think measles is that big a deal, watch this:

    Powerful, moving clip.

    Every anti-vaxxer should see it* – and it should be played or come in some form with every last bit of anti-vax propaganda they spew into the world.

    Along with a few other stories like Dana McCaffery‘s one.

    * But I’m sure they won’t.

    Or if they do, the anti-vaxxer will probably just come up with some rubbish “justifications” and more sickeningly, vomit-inducingly, bad science “arguments” against it. :roll: :-(

  22. Messier Tidy Upper

    Along with a few other stories like Dana McCaffery‘s one.

    I’m sure almost everyone knows that story – all the regulars here anyhow – but if you haven’t and on-the off-chance folks reading this don’t know what I’m referring to see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/02/04/dana-mccaffery/

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/04/the-avn-falsehoods-keep-on-a-comin/

    and if you need something more cheering but also pretty effective on this topic see :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1xw0Ob5bqs

    for the vaccine song.

  23. Kate

    What scares me is the number of parents who would think this article, and the data/stories within, are propaganda.

    And it’s the children who pay the price…

  24. I suffered measles as an adult (and as a child). I do not recommend it.

    I was fortunate and got through without serious outcome but was also lucky to be visiting caring family on holiday who took care of me, as I was living alone and interstate at that time. With the high fever I was hallucinating, delirious and at one point suicidal after 4-5 days of no sleep. I didn’t eat for 10 days. I remember one night being stripped of clothing and sat under a cold shower in a effort to drop my body temperature.

    It wasn’t until my fourth visit to doctors/hospitals that an older GP worked out what was wrong with me, none of the younger doctors had witnessed the symptoms before – and so he asked if it was OK for them all to see me for experience (I agreed of course!).

    When I thought about how I contracted it – I was working hard, stressed, traveling lots, over tired and one day I had to make a tour of a local primary-aged school to show a visiting colleague the facilities should he move his family there. I can only imagine that was the likely source. But who really knows?

    I sure hope most of the kids there were vaccinated.

  25. Ian

    I’m the child of a scientist and a nurse practitioner. Both have been in their positions for over 35yrs. My wife was told by docs that she needed to have the flu vaccine while she was pregnant. We listened and it nearly killed her and the baby. Anaphylactic (sp?) response closed her throat and cut off oxygen to her and the baby. Maybe, just maybe some people don’t need to get vaccinated. I’ll get the shots myself, since I’ve never had a reaction, but the first vaccine my wife gets and she nearly dies? Never again for her. And we will seriously debate about vaccinating our child. I appreciate the information BA, but I’ll form my own opinions about whether or not to do them.

  26. dan

    Maybe the real sheep are the ones who allow corps inject there children with thousands of chems and invent new ones every year. If you are tended to you are a sheep. I tend to myself

  27. Ryan

    Ian,

    While I’m sure that was scary there is a reason all shots are done where there is medical personal. So that in the rare case something like that happens, help is right there.

    You say your wife nearly died but did she really nearly die? An anaphylaxis reaction is serious but with medical personal right there it would very rarely be life threatening.

    Just because your wife had a reaction doesn’t mean your child will.

  28. Mark Schaffer

    Ian,
    The choice is not between no risk and some risk. See this Penn and Teller video and think about who you putting at risk and what you are putting them at risk for when you don’t vaccinate:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfdZTZQvuCo
    Now, exactly what caused this shocky reaction by your wife? What exact compound? What was the exact period of time from her receiving the shot to when this reaction occurred?

  29. Peter B

    Ian @ #25

    Yes, there are some people who shouldn’t or who can’t get vaccinated. They rely on everyone else around them being vaccinated.

  30. TDL

    Just today, news of a mumps outbreak in BC tied to a religious group that opposes vaccinations… http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/06/21/bc-mumps-alert.html?ref=rss

  31. Russell G.

    Man, this is depressing. Considering how anti-vaxx claims have been thoroughly discredited, is there any hope of this getting better in the near future?

  32. @Ian

    Sorry to hear about your wife’s experience. One of the questions that is asked (or should be) before any vaccination is whether the patient has ever had any allergic reactions to similarly formulated vaccines or if the patient is allergic to any ingredients (e.g., egg allergies are a contraindication for the flu vaccine). Medical reasons like that for not receiving a vaccine are quite valid, and they make it all the more important that those who can be vaccinated are vaccinated.

    Your story also shows why good communication between doctor and patient is important.

    BTW, if anyone reading these comments has ever had a bad reaction to a vaccine but still supports their use and would like to share their story, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Clicking on my name will take you to one of my sites, with contact info there.

  33. Kryptik

    Ian @ #25,

    As much as I don’t want to feel like I’m piling on, I will reiterate what some have already said in various ways here. The importance of widespread vaccination is not just to protect those who get the vaccine, but those who don’t or can’t, much like your wife who apparently had a very legit and terrifying reaction to it. There are some who simply can’t be vaccinated either due to allergic reactions or compromised immunity. What’s important is that herd immunity protects these folks too by making it nearly impossible for such diseases to linger and perpetuate.

    By all means, take a good long study at such vaccines. For those with histories of allergic reactions like that, it’s good, safe policy. However, don’t take your wife’s reaction to vaccines as a sign of inherent danger in vaccination as a whole. That would be akin to considering peanuts to be inherently dangerous because there are those with severe nut allergies.

  34. @James,

    I think that’s the biggest problem. Vaccines are a victim of their own success. People of my generation (min 30′s) and younger (and even some older) have never had to personally see polio, mumps, whooping cough, etc. At least not in the widespread pre-vaccine days. As such, we don’t immediately think of iron lungs, paralysis, death, etc.

    Instead, our minds bring up images of similar diseases that we *have* experienced. Like, for example, chicken pox. Then, even though those comparison-diseases are far less serious, we use this mental comparison to access risk. “Oh, so measles is kind of like chicken pox. You itch for a week and it’s over.”

    Obviously, this risk assessment is highly flawed. (I’d rather get chicken pox than measles!) Still, it persists. Add in vaccine risk questions, half-truths, and even a few outright lies and the risk of vaccinating seems to sky-rocket.

    If we were still seeing children regularly paralyzed or dying of these diseases, there wouldn’t be any anti-vaccine movement at all. Sadly, we seem to be moving to that situation.

  35. @Alan,

    Coincidentally, I’m going through some communication training right now for work. Using that training’s lessons, I’d identify the anti-vaxxer’s motives. Some anti-vaxxers would settle for nothing more than the complete obliteration of Western medicine. These people grab headlines and I don’t really think you can rationally argue with them.

    However, those people aside, a parent who is questioning vaccinations is likely the victim of faulty risk assessment. They haven’t seen the horrors of the disease that vaccines protect against and they’ve been fed poor information about the risks associated with vaccines. They’re scared and want to do what is best for their children.

    Acknowledge and agree with this motive. Tell them that you agree that the children’s well being is paramount. Then calmly (and without being insulting) state that there is some information they might not have received. Point them to the websites with the proper information and be helpful (but not controlling, try to control their decision and they’ll rebel and do the opposite). A gentle hand is required instead of insulting their parenting skills and their intelligence.

  36. @Ian

    Your wife may have an allergy to eggs and most of the time, flu vaccines “…use eggs to culture inactive viruses for vaccines…” http://foodallergies.about.com/od/eggallergies/f/swinefluvaccine.htm

    Thought you might want to know and maybe she can get tested for that allergy. My son and husband have various food allergies and eggs is one for our son, so he doesn’t get the flu vaccines. However, it is interesting to note that sometimes they may (or do) create an egg-free vaccine for the flu. A talk with your doctor about them each year can help you stay informed, then make an educated decision. I hope this information is helpful.

  37. @Ian,

    I’d second what Lisa said about allergy testing. It’s possible there’s something in the flu vaccine that caused her allergic reaction that isn’t in other vaccines. Even if she’s incapable of having vaccinations due to medical reasons, though, that’s all the more reason to want to have everyone else vaccinated. The more people around you who are vaccinated, the less chance a virus has of moving through the population to get to your wife and/or baby. With less people immunized (and not for valid reasons like allergies but for bad reasons like “measles vaccine is worse than getting measles”), the herd immunity breaks down and your family’s risk gets much higher.

  38. Phyllis

    All three of my children were vaccinated, on time, with all recommended rounds. I’m too young to know what measles or polio are like for those who catch them, but I know enough about them to want to make sure my kids can avoid them. When my kids were little, I had heard about the supposed autism-vaccination connection, but the info the anti-vax folks presented still showed me a very low risk of my kids developing autism because of a vaccination and I felt that pros of vaccination far out-weighed the cons of what I was being told. I must admit that it never crossed my mind that by vaccinating my kids against these diseases, I would be helping to protect the people they came into contact with, as well … had I known, I would have been even more enthusiastic! It is actually a little gratifying to know that my choice (though at the time it was a selfish one to look after my own kids) is contributing to the wider community. Perhaps framing the argument as an inclusive, “we’re in this together” vantage point, more parents who are on the fence may choose to help protect their kids, too. I certainly hope so. After all, the imagined risk of autism was so very small and has now be completely dismissed, what do we have to lose by vaccinating our kids? Except diseases …

  39. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this info for my mission.

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