A Measly Effort? Why measles rates are rising, and what it means for us – Emily Farrell

Measles is a horrific virus. In 1529 in Cuba, after the native population had lived through the smallpox outbreak brought to them from the Spanish, measles arrived and killed two thirds of the survivors. Symptoms last 7-10 days and include fever (which can often reach above 40°C), cough and inflamed eyes, and can even result in death every 1 in 1000 cases. Complications such as encephalitis which causes swelling in the brain and permanent brain damage, can increase the mortality rate.

Because of this threat to humanity, in 1968 an improved measles vaccination was made available and it is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths each year. Measles was even eradicated completely from the US in 2000.

But there is a growing threat to this perfect system. The “Facebook mom”. Everyone knows about the “study” conducted by Andrew Wakefield which “proved” that the MMR vaccine causes autism and it did discourage people for a while. But in recent years people had got over this and were trusting real science again. Numbers of vaccinations were rising and were even hitting all time highs.

But then social media went and ruined everything. Superprotective parents suddenly found social media and started forming into groups, spreading rumours amongst themselves and encroaching on people who would usually listen to doctors, instilling fear in their hearts about the safety of vaccines.

This has meant that in the last three years, MMR vaccine rates have been decreasing, until last year where it only hit 91.6% in the UK. Measles is very contagious. Before the vaccine came along, every infected person would infect 10-15 more people and it would spread very quickly. Because of this high infection rate, at least 90-95% of people need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. But this year’s vaccination rate is dangerously close to this threshold and this is why instances of measles are on the increase.

In 2017, there were 282 cases in the UK alone. Across Europe cases of measles were also on the increase, with 21,000 people catching measles and 35 dying from the disease.

Numbers were especially high In Romania (5,562) and Italy (5,006). Some countries struggle to get the vaccine to everyone due to marginalised groups, interruptions in vaccine supply and disease surveillance systems underperforming. Because measles is an endemic disease and relies on low levels of immunity to survive in a population, travellers coming from or going to these countries can reintroduce the disease.  This can cause outbreaks in populations where measles was absent, but if people in an area are not vaccinated, it can take hold and start to cause symptoms, complications and even death.

And it’s not just measles. Last year, four out of the six routine vaccinations given to children when they are 1 and 2 showed small decreases. This means we could start to see increases in the instances of polio, diphtheria and even meningitis. This is definitely a step backwards for the Western world and action needs to be taken.

P.S. If you would like to despair further at humanity, may I suggest taking a look at “things anti-vaxxers say” on Facebook.

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