Ignorance is bliss – unless it kills you. The ignorance of millions of Europeans concerning vaccines is causing a resurgence of deadly measles once again.
The U.S. Crisis
The United States experienced a similar crisis not so long ago. In 2014, outbreaks of measles in New York City and at California’s Disneyland brought much-needed attention to this problem. Things have improved in this country but they are getting worse in Europe.
The vaccine hysteria can be traced back to misleading research conducted by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, and published in the respected medical journal The Lancet in 1998. This research claimed an association between measles vaccines and autism.
The Wakefield research was completely debunked by others and the editor of The Lancet later published an apology describing the original paper as “fatally flawed.” Though Wakefield’s credibility was ruined, his fraudulent research raised up a whole generation of parents who still believe in his findings. Their cause has been inflamed by celebrities such as Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, and her comedian partner Jim Carrey, who have an autistic child. Their emotional appeals to other parents have misinformed many who desperately want to prevent their own children from suffering this debilitating disease.
After the Disneyland scare of 2014, vaccination rates have improved. Stronger laws have been passed to eliminate “loop holes” like “personal choice” or “religious objections” as legitimate excuses for unvaccinated children. Current laws generally require a valid medical reason stipulated by their doctor to avoid vaccination.
The European Crisis
But Europe hasn’t been paying attention. Rising cases of measles in Europe, especially Romania, are sounding alarms.
Pietro Lombardi, writing for The Wall Street Journal, says Romania is fighting a deadly measles outbreak that has seen more than 15,000 people infected with the disease and that has claimed 59 lives since one of Europe’s most lethal measles outbreaks in decades started in 2016. More than 41,000 people were infected with measles in the first half of this year in the wider European region, compared with roughly 24,000 for all of 2017, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The problem, once again, is skepticism about vaccine safety. Despite consistent medical evidence that these vaccines are safe, ignorance and misinformation continues to plague attempts to improve rates of vaccination.
This skepticism is made worse in poorer countries like Romania where irregular supplies of vaccine, mistrust of authorities and a vocal antivaccine movement contribute to even lower rates of vaccination.
Lower rates of vaccination deprive countries of the benefits of herd immunity. When vaccination rates are high, those in the community who cannot be vaccinated, because of a demonstrable medical condition, are protected. To establish herd immunity, vaccination rates must be very high – up to 95% or better. In the U.S. at large, the numbers are pretty good, with close to 95% of incoming kindergartners in compliance with vaccine guidelines, according to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey. But in Romania, the share of 1-year-olds who received the first dose of measles vaccine fell to 86% in 2017, according to WHO.
Just as in this country, liberal orthodoxy has made it difficult to pass legislation to fix this problem. Until cooler, well-informed politicians prevail, Europe will continue to face this crisis in the years ahead.