Measles Outbreak Causes Teens from Anti-Vaccine Families to Seek Help

Standard vaccines such as those for polio, hepatitis B and measles are mandatory for all children in China and supplied by the state
AFP/Brendan Smialowski

Measles, a disease declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, has been in the spotlight after Washington state recently announced an emergency after an outbreak sickened dozens of people — mostly children who had not been vaccinated.

The publicity has also revealed a growing number of teens from anti-vaccine families who want help getting protected from communicable diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 372 cases were identified in 2018, with 101 more since January 1, 2019.

And the publicity about the virus, which if untreated can cause brain swelling that can lead to hearing loss and even death, has caused people to line up for a vaccination that has prevented countless infections since it was introduced in 1963.

In Clark County, Washington, — a hotbed for the anti-vaccine movement —  those getting measles vaccinations rose from 530 in January of 2018 to more than 3,000 this January, according to the local health department.

And now, some children from anti-vaccination families are seeking help as they confront fears that they will become infected.

NBC reported on one of those teens, Mayci, 18, who lives in Georgia and who started questioning her parents’ anti-vaccination stance.

While growing up, Mayci thought her mother’s negative views of vaccines were normal. Her mother used a religious exemption so Mayci wouldn’t be required to be vaccinated in school, and told her friends to do the same.

“When I was 12, I remember all my classmates saying, ‘I hated getting my shots’,” Mayci said. “I asked them, ‘What do you mean, you had to get shots to get into school?’”

She turned to Reddit for answers and plans to make medicine the centerpiece of her career. She wants to study clinical laboratory science in college.

NBC reported:

Georgia is one of 18 states that allows non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for going to school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Currently, 47 states allow religious exemptions and since 2009, the number of ‘philosophical-belief’ vaccine exemptions provided to state departments has risen in 12 of the 18 states that currently allow this policy.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, spoke to NBC.

“What we are seeing is pockets of intense anti-vaccine activity,” Hotez said. “A social movement of public health vaccine opposition has been growing in the United States in recent years. Subsequently, measles outbreaks have also increased.”

The Washington Post spoke to another teen in Ohio. Ethan Linderberger, 18, said he mother was anti-vaccine and he, too, turned to Reddit to find answers and his way:

As anti-vaccination movements metastasize amid outbreaks of dangerous diseases, internet-savvy teenagers are fact-checking their parents’ decisions in a digital health reawakening – and seeking their own treatments in bouts of family defiance.

In three states, at least three self-described teenagers told Reddit they have a common problem: Their parents are staunchly opposed to vaccination, and they fear for their health if they do not take action. Different state laws affect how old minors need to be to make their own medical decisions.

On Dec. 17, [Linderberger] walked into an Ohio Department of Health office in Norwalk and received vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza and HPV, according to a shot record viewed by the Post.

Lindenberger told the Post that he has seen increasing online discussions among teens who are “emboldened to make their own health decisions and pursue vaccinations.”

And the measles seems to be putting them in the spotlight again.

“Measles is exquisitely contagious,” Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health, said in the Post report. “If you have an unvaccinated population and you introduce a measles case into that population, it will take off like a wildfire.”

The recent measles outbreaks, however, isn’t the highest number of infections on record. According to the CDC, between 2010 and 2019, the largest number of cases took place in 2015, with 667 infections identified.

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