Measles Becomes a Medical, Scientific, Political Issue in US

08 February, 2015

Measles has become a public health issue in the United States. Measles cases were first reported last month at Disneyland in California. Since then, the disease has spread to more than 100 people across the country. Many of those patients are children.

Measles is a serious illness that spreads easily. Sometimes, it can be deadly. The recent outbreak has re-opened a debate about vaccines that protect people from measles and other diseases.

In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from the country. In other words, it was no longer a health threat to Americans. U.S. officials say the disease was defeated because of a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program and a strong public health system.

With a vaccination, a medical worker puts a small amount of the disease into a person's body. As a result, the body learns to protect itself from the disease.

Eric Handler is a public health officer. He says some parents do not vaccinate their children because they are afraid the vaccine will create other problems – especially autism.

But Mr. Handler says medical researchers have clearly found that vaccines do not cause autism. He says parents who are worried about vaccines get their information from the Internet and from friends.

Dotty Hagmier is a parent who did not vaccinate her children. She believes vaccinations can give children an illness they will have for their entire lives.

"There is also many risks if they get the vaccine versus getting an illness that they could actually recover from."

Sandy Roffman is not vaccinating her daughter either. But she has another reason: her daughter has cancer and cannot receive even a small amount of measles in a vaccine.

Ms. Roffman is angry that some people do not protect their children from measles. She says that, for one thing, she knows what it is like to take care of a very sick child.

"It's unfathomable to me that, A., anyone would deliberately put their child in harm and B., would put the rest of the world at harm."

Top health experts agree with Ms. Roffman. Doctor Anthony Fauci leads the U.S. National Institutes of Health. He told Congress that parents who refuse to have their kids vaccinated put others at risk.

Dr. Tom Frieden is the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says vaccinations were important for public health.

"The more kids who are not vaccinated, the more they are at risk and the more they are putting their neighbor's kids at risk, as well."

Dr. Linda Fu is an infectious disease expert at Children's National Health System in Washington. She says studies have shown that vaccines save lives, and the side effects are rare and minor. Problems can include mild pain or a higher than normal body temperature. She notes that measles can cause ear infections, hearing loss, brain damage, pneumonia and death.

Yet the dispute over vaccines and measles has become so heated in the U.S. that politicians are talking about it.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote on social media, "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and vaccines work."