by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor
Famously dubbed “the happiest place on earth,” Anaheim’s Disneyland has spawned a most unhappy event: an outbreak of measles, now affecting roughly 100 people. The disease was officially declared “eliminated” in 2000 due to widespread vaccination. But in recent years more parents’ decision not to vaccinate their children has resulted in a resurgence of measles. As last month’s outbreak spreads across the country, debate ensues once again about the importance of having – and utilizing – access to vaccines.
The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR, has been available in the United States since 1963. Pediatricians typically recommend that children receive two doses of the vaccine, one at 12-15 months of age and a second dose at 4-6 years of age. The vaccine protects patients from measles’ symptoms, which can include rash, cough, runny nose, eye irritation, and fever. These symptoms “can lead to ear infection, pneumonia, seizures…brain damage, and death,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Despite these benefits, vaccines have become a source of suspicion for a growing anti-vaccination parent movement. Encouraged by the high-profile leadership of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, the anti-vaccine movement often cites the research of UK physician David Wakefield. Wakefield became famous in the late 1990s for research suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. Health care providers and scientists, however, widely discredit Wakefield’s positions, which were identified as fraudulent and unethical. Wakefield lost his professional license, and no scientifically accepted research has arisen to corroborate his claims.
To reiterate the importance of vaccines amid the Disneyland measles outbreak, philanthropist Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offered a pointed statement. “We take vaccines so for granted in the United States,” Gates told the Huffington Post. “Women in the developing world know the power of [vaccines]. They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. [Americans have] forgotten what measles deaths look like.”
Gates urged Americans to utilize the vaccine access at their disposal. “I’d say to the people of the United States: we’re incredibly lucky to have that technology,” Gates explained, “and we ought to take full advantage of it.”