Outbreaks of argument with measles spread
Anyone remember the 2014 outbreak of whooping cough in Traverse City?
It happened swiftly one November in a wave that surged through area schools. It started with a smattering across districts — 11 cases at Grand Traverse Academy; seven at TCAPS; five at Westwoods Elementary School, one here, one there. Then it climbed to 55 cases. By the end, the potentially fatal disease pertussis, known as the whooping cough, reached 90 people — mostly children.
The lightning spread of the disease — the threat to children, especially infants who can’t be vaccinated against it — spot lit our area vaccination rates, or lack thereof.
In several schools, nearly a quarter of the students weren’t vaccinated — by their parents’ choice.
Reporters at the time reached out to state and school administrators to understand our permissive policies on unvaccinated kids in schools, and also to parents to understand their reasons for not vaccinating their kids.
Many parents wanted to talk about their reasons — about which they felt passionately — but few wanted to do so publically for fear of shame or judgment.
Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties remain with some of the state’s highest rates of unvaccinated kids, but the conversation has changed.
Take a spin through the thread on the recent Record-Eagle story about our local health department’s reminder about containment and quarantine procedure given Michigan’s measles outbreak. You’ll find hundreds of comments on both sides aimed at educating the other.
An increasingly emboldened anti-vaccination movement is emblematic of our times — it wraps in all the mistrust, outrage, health consciousness, child-centrism, individualism, medical commercialism, tech-fueled tribalism and fear of our age. Many of us also haven’t lived through an epidemic like polio or scarlet fever, when everyone seemed to know someone struck seriously ill. Instead we’re a culture of empowered individuals who attempt to correctly diagnose our own medical conditions online and watch long commercials that end with “ask your doctor about (insert advertised prescription medication here).”
“Do your own thing” is cooler than “join the herd.”
But being a part of the herd is the only way vaccines work. Herd immunity is the percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to stymie the spread of germs. It varies by disease.
For example 80-85 percent of any given population needs to be vaccinated to contain polio.
Airborne measles is more contagious — before the vaccine, one person with measles would infect 10-15 others, amplifying the spread. Measles’ herd immunity numbers jump to a 90-95 percent vaccination rate.
That’s a lot of people agreeing to be on the same team.
So let’s look for common ground. We should acknowledge that questioning the medical community and the government are healthy practices that have brought innovation, inclusion and safety for us all. We should also acknowledge that there’s a lot of garbage and fear-mongering online, including the 1998 debunked study that espoused the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, shot caused autism.
Both sides are also concerned about their kids. Can we just get rid of that arguing tactic altogether?
Getting vaccinated isn’t just about being personally disease-free. It also protects those who aren’t vaccinated, like babies and young children, often the most at risk in an outbreak. But once these herd numbers fall, we need to know, so we can work together to get the numbers back up quickly.
There are many ideas out there — do away with vaccination waivers in schools (except in proven medical cases); allow children to choose to be vaccinated even if their parents disagree, mandate vaccinations in an outbreak.
But the horse is out of barn by then, running toward the herd. Vaccination is a public health issue — like a neighbor with an open sewer. The neighbor may choose to live that way, but it impacts the air, water and people around them. So, for the betterment of society, the situation is not allowed. Science evolves in part by questioning the status quo. But it takes a herd — of critical-thinking, questioning people who care about their children’s health and also of their neighbors — to stay healthy.
— The Traverse City Record-Eagle