The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven't been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can be contained, but only if everyone does their part by getting vaccinated and rejecting scare tactics that have no basis in long-established science.
Pinellas health officials reported Monday that an unvaccinated child had contracted measles, though it was unclear how. The case was thought to be isolated, but then two more cases were confirmed in another household. None of the three patients had been immunized. Health officials have been notifying anyone who might have been exposed and bracing for more new cases. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of unvaccinated people close to the patient will get it.
For most of us, vaccination is a clear-cut, responsible choice. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a schedule, followed by most doctors, of recommended vaccinations from birth through age 18. It covers diseases such as polio and yes, measles, which once threatened entire populations, especially children. What halted those diseases? Vaccines. The development of the first polio vaccine in the last century had an immediate effect, as cases in the United States fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,300 in 1957. By 1988, domestic cases had all but disappeared. The concept of "herd immunity" is real, and it saves lives.
People with autoimmune diseases or weak immune systems cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons. They rely on the rest of us to protect them by being immunized ourselves. But following the federally recommended vaccination schedule is no longer the universally accepted common practice it once was, thanks to a thoroughly debunked "study" that fraudulently linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism in young children.
The 1998 paper, which appeared in a prominent British medical journal, was found to be scientifically flawed and based on falsified research. The author was stripped of his medical license. To be clear: vaccines do not cause autism. Yet even two decades later, the false claims from the study continue to wreak collateral damage, seeding skepticism in some parents who convince themselves they are being cautious by not vaccinating their kids just in case some phantom harm could result. As such, measles is making a comeback. The United States had its worst outbreak in decades in 2014, with more than 600 cases reported — triple the number in 2013.
The three Pinellas cases are the county's first in 20 years.
If an apparently conquered disease threatening the health of Tampa Bay residents ever seemed like a remote possibility, three unforeseen local measles cases prove otherwise. Vaccines are safe and effective, protecting the health both of individuals and the community at large. The only harm to fear is what can happen when people don't get vaccinated: the resurgence of deadly but preventable diseases like measles.