Vaccinations have been in the news this year in the wake of the largest measles outbreak since 1992 in the United States and following the elimination of the virus in 2000. More than 1,200 people have been diagnosed with measles in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But despite the spread of the disease and the centers’ advocacy for vaccinating against it, the Journal Sentinel reported that close to 49,000 children who have waivers that exempt them from vaccines are heading back to school this week in Wisconsin.
“I really do think it’s purely just dumb luck that this hasn’t spread to Wisconsin,” James Conway, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in the Sentinel story:
Immunization rates of 92 percent to 95 percent are considered necessary to provide what health officials call “herd immunity.” The term is used to describe a level of immunization high enough to prevent the infection from spreading to those who are susceptible, possibly triggering a widespread outbreak. The vulnerable group includes children under a year who are too young to receive vaccines and children with weakened immune systems.
Wisconsin’s most recent county-by-county immunization rates paint a sobering picture. The 2018 figures measure the percentages of 5- and 6-year-olds who had received at least two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, the amount needed to fully immunize a child.
Not a single county in 2018 came close to the 92 percent threshold. In fact, 40 of the 72 counties had immunization rates below 80 percent.
“I would not be surprised at all if I woke up tomorrow to hear that the measles outbreak had reached Wisconsin,” Malia Jones, an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory, said the Sentinel report. “Not surprised at all.”
“Obviously alarm bells should be going off that we’re below the threshold for herd immunity and more importantly it’s trending the wrong way,” State Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh who proposed legislation in May that would eliminate the personal exemption from immunizations, said in the Sentinel report.
“Exemptions for personal, religious or health reasons have risen more than 9 percent in Wisconsin over the last three school years,” the Sentinel reported. “In 2018-2019, exemptions totaled 49,039.”
“I would say that if a child was given the facts themselves and told what these diseases would be like to go through, they would choose to be given something that would not make them have to go through that disease,” James H. Conway, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in the Sentinel report. “It’s selfish for parents to put their children at risk because of an agenda about personal freedom and personal choice.”
“Conway said unvaccinated children are also at risk because air travel could bring new cases of measles into the country,” the Sentinel reported. “Public health officials say that Wisconsin’s low immunization rate reflects a national anti-vaccine movement driven by erroneous information on social media, concerns that the shots can cause harm and by a long-ago retracted paper that suggested a false link between vaccines and autism.”
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