At the beginning of this month, a woman from Washington State died of measles, which marks the first confirmed measles death in the U.S. in twelve years.
There’s been a small—but vocal—anti-vaccination movement brewing in the U.S., and these unvaccinated people tend to flock together, which increases the risk that measles will spread in certain communities. In January of this year, there was a massive outbreak that was traced back to two amusement parks in California. Most of the individuals who contracted the disease weren’t vaccinated.
In order for us to achieve herd immunity, more than 95% of a given population needs to be immunized against a specific infectious agent in order to stave off an epidemic. The MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccination rates of people exposed to measles during the outbreak are estimated to be 50-86%—far below the threshold necessary to protect a community.
We can’t pretend that this is an issue that’s foreign to New York either. Last month, one of our clients in Manhattan contacted us in a panic over the weekend about an employee with a confirmed case of mumps.
As a population, we’ve become complacent about vaccination. With the exception of the Ebola scare last year, many people have ceased to fear infectious diseases. Vaccination isn’t a trivial matter, and erosion of herd immunity is a public health nightmare. While healthy adults can usually fight off measles, children and the immunocompromised (e.g., the woman from Washington State) are at significantly greater risk of confronting serious complications from the infection. And the way that they’re endangered by contagious diseases like measles is by being exposed to unvaccinated individuals who have the disease.
Measles was virtually eradicated in 2000, but the resurgence of measles over the last fifteen years has unearthed our regression towards a decidedly unscientific philosophy regarding vaccination. Encourage your employees and their children to inoculate against MMR. It’s easily preventable with the vaccine!