How can we keep unvaccinated people from bringing infectious diseases into the U.S.? These diseases are a real threat to public health, and while we’re spending billions on national security, almost all that money goes towards “security theater,” such as full-body scanning equipment at airports, which does almost nothing to protect the public. We’d be much better off spending those scarce funds on detecting infections at the border.
In the most recent invasion, the measles virus has snuck in thanks to a single unvaccinated student from Utah, who picked up the disease in Poland. The junior high student traveled to Poland with his family to pick up his sister, who was there as a Mormon missionary. As reported by the Associated Press, up to 1000 people have already been exposed, and the circle could easily spread beyond that.
Measles is a dangerous and incredibly infectious virus, transmitting easily between people. According to the CDC:
“About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die.”
This is not a disease to take lightly. Fortunately, the vaccine is highly effective, which means the real challenge is getting people to take it.
Utah requires measles vaccinations for public schools, but (as in many other states) parents can refuse vaccines for personal or religious reasons. California now has about 2% of parentsrefusing vaccines for their children for personal beliefs. This gaping hole in our public health system needs to be closed: if parents refuse to vaccinate their children, they are putting the rest of us at risk, and these children need to be kept out of public schools.
Most of the parents refusing vaccines for the children are doing so out of fear that vaccines cause harm. Despite countless studies showing that vaccines are safe (and in particular, that vaccines do not cause autism), these rumors persist, amplified greatly by the anti-vaccine movement, which seems impervious to evidence or reason.
Meanwhile, anti-vaccine groups such as Age of Autism are fighting to keep or even expand these exemptions. Other sites such as ThinkTwice.com and Internet quacks Joseph Mercola and Sherri Tenpenny advise parents to refuse vaccination and use whatever loopholes they can to enroll their kids in school. Parents who follow this advice rely on the immunization of others to protect their own children, but they appear unconcerned about the risk they forcing on the rest of us. They also neglect to consider that vaccines are never 100% effective, so even those of us who vaccinate our kids are still bearing a greater risk by allowing the unvaccinated to attend school.
Europe has its own problems with vaccine coverage, and measles is spreading rapidly this year, having hit 24 countries so far. France had 3749 cases and one death in the first two months of this year. Many of the victims are children too young to be vaccinated, but the disease is often spread by people who simply refuse to get the vaccine.
The latest measles outbreak in Utah could have been avoided if the student involved had simply been vaccinated. Realistically, though, we will always have citizens traveling abroad and bringing infectious diseases back. If the U.S. really wants to use its security dollars wisely, we should implement greater screening at the border to keep these disesases out. We could start by telling people to get vaccinated before they leave the country. If they refuse, we could require them to be tested for infections when they return. We could implement this using funds we’d save when we stop telling everyone to take off their shoes at the airport.