The name of a disease that has been forgotten about in the United States for a rather long time has begun to emerge in the news again over the past several weeks. That disease would be measles, and the news value of this story has surely been enhanced by the fact that the epicenter of the current outbreak of measles has been traced to (of all places) Disneyland. This sample health paper will discuss this situation in greater depth.
Facts of the Disneyland measles outbreak
To start with, then, Gelnza has reported the following:
“The California department of public health said on 7 January that officials believe a person infected with measles was staying in the Disneyland theme park in December. That unknown patient then infected others at the park” (paragraph 4).
One of the other persons infected by this original patient apparently traveled from Orange County, California up to a town in the state of Washington and then back again via airplane; this exacerbated the spread of the problem since measles is a highly contagious illness. The measles outbreak was similar to the Ebola virus to the U.S. because the original patient was a traveler from outside the United States.
This is because measles was declared officially eradicated in the United States as of the year 2000, meaning that any new cases would necessarily come from abroad. Of course, insofar as Americans themselves are not vaccinated against measles, contact with an infected foreigner could easily reintroduce the illness within the United States itself.
Spread of the measles to other states
The measles outbreak has spread across the nation since its original emergence in Disneyland. According to CNN Staff, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that there were 102 cases of measles in the month of January. The vast majority of these cases have occurred within the state of California itself; however, one can also see the outbreak radiating (so to speak) out from California.
For example, the bordering state of Arizona has been the second most affected by the outbreak, with a total of 7 cases as of February 2 (although this pales in comparison to the 92 cases reported in California); Oregon and Washington have also been affected; and on the other hand, the southeastern and northwestern corners of the nation (i.e. the places furthest from California) have yet to be affected at all.
Nevertheless, even the spread of the disease that has occurred thus far is surely disconcerting. At this point, it will be worthwhile to consider the significance of the fact that the outbreak began specifically in Disneyland and not elsewhere.
Significance of Disneyland’s outbreak
At first, the fact that measles emerged in Disneyland and not elsewhere seems to be a matter of either irony or coincidence. However, there is a profound epidemiological sense to this turn of events. More specifically, Disneyland is an international tourist destination; and since measles could have only entered the United States from abroad, it follows that a place such as Disneyland would be precisely where one could expect a new outbreak of an illness such as measles to begin.
Moreover, the fact that the outbreak has spread so rapidly across the United States can also surely be traced to the fact that people from across the nation may visit Disneyland for the purposes of vacation. So, what likely happened is that people from all the states affected thus far came into contact with an infected person in Disneyland; they then went back home; and from that point, either the presence of that person itself would make the state an infected one, or the person could pass on the illnesses to others in his home state.
Infecting more than one state
In principle, then, the progression of the measles outbreak is easy to track at the logical level. For example, regarding the case of Arizona, Plait has written the following:
“1,000 people are under observation in Arizona, including nearly 200 children, because the measles was brought to a Phoenix medical center from someone infected at Disneyland” (paragraph 3).
Similar stories could probably be told about all the other states in which infections have been found thus far as well. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that this only becomes a serious concern in the event that Americans are not vaccinated against measles. If the number of cases in California itself is so high, then this is not only because California is the epicenter of the outbreak but also because there are large pockets of unvaccinated persons in California communities.
This introduces a new dimension to the situation under consideration: Why, when vaccines are readily available for measles and almost universally recommended by medical authorities, would the United States still need to worry about an illness such as measles in this day and age? Indeed, the re-emergence of questions and concerns about vaccination (or lack thereof) has been one of the main broader social and political consequences of the measles outbreak in Disneyland.
The purpose of the following section of the present essay will be to delve into the debate over vaccination that has emerged in the contemporary American cultural landscape. After this, the essay will also take a broader historical perspective on the issue in order to shed some light on why the debate emerged in the first place and what its implications are for the present situation.
Debate over measles vaccination
Essentially, the current measles outbreak in the United States has only been able to occur as a result of a persistent and vocal opposition to the practice of vaccination that exists in the United States. This results from parents believing that giving their children vaccines will potentially hurt their holistic health and cause them to become afflicted by developmental disorders and autism spectrum disorder. Depending on whom one asks, this proposition is perceived as either a self-evident factor the height of absurdity.
From the perspective of people who accept the findings of modern science, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks by an immeasurable margin. As Plait has pointed out, however:
“What people forget is that most parents who don’t vaccinate aren’t dumb, and they don’t think they’re being selfish. They simply love their children, and don’t want them to be hurt” (paragraph 9).
Decision-making, of course, will then be strongly influenced by one’s beliefs regarding vaccination, no matter how irrational those beliefs may seem from any given perspective.
Parent’s right to protect children
This debate opens onto the question of whether it really should be the parent’s “right” to determine whether their children get vaccines, insofar deciding against vaccines harms public health in general. As Weinreb has pointed out, when vaccination is prevalent within a community, the entire community benefits from the phenomenon of “herd immunity”; and this helps protect not only ordinary people but also those persons who for one medical reason or another actually cannot be vaccinated.
In this sense, the decision to not vaccinate one’s child affects not only the health of one’s own child but also the health of the entire community. When the health of the public as a whole is at stake, there is generally an ethical tendency to curtail individual autonomy in the name of the greater good (see O’Leary). A legitimate point that could thus be raised is whether the decisions of “anti-vaxxers” should be respected, or whether there should be legal regulations that prevent such a danger from being posed to the community.
It is unlikely within the current political climate, however, that the American government will undertake any widespread vaccination campaign, against measles or anything else. As Frank has written:
“Sixty years ago, the idea that the federal government might launch a giant program to vaccinate millions of people—for their own protection, and not least to protect others from infection—seemed the height of rationality, an understanding that the best medicine is preventive medicine” (paragraph 4).
Now, however, trust in the federal government has declined dramatically; many people may genuinely believe that the government is trying to hurt them; and naturally, trying to force anti-vaxxers to get their children vaccinated would likely just result in widespread hysteria more than anything else. The debate would thus seem to end in a stalemate, with strong “recommendations” being made on both sides but without those recommendations having any real force to compel action.
History of parent’s who don’t vaccinate their children
In truth, it would seem that the alleged connection between vaccination and autism is simply based on bad science. As Gerber and Offit have discussed, a researcher named Wakefield published a scientific paper in 1998 that posited a causal connection between vaccination for measles and the onset of autism in children. This paper has been widely discredited over time, on the grounds that Wakefield’s research relied on an incredibly poor methodology that made it effectively impossible for the study to meaningfully demonstrate the validity of its hypothesis.
However, the basic proposition has clearly stuck in the minds of many Americans. The contemporary anti-vaxxers clearly do believe that vaccination will cause harm to their children and that it is thus better to run the risk of their children getting infected by disease than to expose their children to the side effects of vaccination.
Moreover, the fact that this belief persists even in the face of universal scientific refutation of Wakefield’s hypothesis would seem to indicate that many Americans simply do not believe in the legitimacy of science. Or, rather: perhaps they believe that the scientists themselves are corrupt, or in some in cahoots with governmental or other powers who have a vested interest in harming the children of the nation. At the bottom of the problem, then, may lie a basic erosion of trust in the national community as a whole.
If the government were to take action in favor of vaccination, the assumption made by many Americans would likely be that the government wants to hurt them and not protect them; and if scientists promote vaccination, then this may be taken as an evidence that they are “in” on the conspiracy and thus not to be trusted. In any event, it is clear that there are deep psychological reasons underlying the current protest against the practice of vaccination. The exploration of these reasons, however, would surpass the scope of the present essay.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a discussion of the recent outbreak of measles in Disneyland. The essay began with a description of the basic facts of the story, and then it considered the significance of the fact that the outbreak occurred specifically in Disneyland. From this point, the essay turned to the debate regarding vaccination that has re-emerged within the United States as a result of the outbreak; and finally, it reflected on this debate from a broader historical perspective. Ultimately, talk of the measles outbreak opens onto broader questions of private interest versus public interest, reason versus intuition, and trust versus suspicion with respect to the government and other experts.
CNN Staff. “CDC: 102 Measles Cases in January, Most Stemming from Disney Outbreak.” CNN. 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Feb. 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/02/health/cdc-january-measles-report-disney/.
Frank, Jeffrey. “When Ike Trusted a New Vaccine.” New Yorker. 4 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/ike-trusted-new- vaccine?utm_source=tny&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailyemail&mbid=nl_020415_Daily&CNDID=26394713&spMailingID=7477266&spUserID=NDE2MjQ0NTYxMjIS1&spJobID=620419265&spReportId=NjIwNDE5MjY1S0.
Gelnza, Jessica. “Measles Outbreak Spreads in US after Unvaccinated Woman Visits Disneyland.” Guardian. 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jan/14/measles-outbreak-spreads-unvaccinated-woman-disneyland.
Gerber, Jeffrey S., and Paul A. Offit. “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 48.4 (2009): 456-461. Print.
O’Leary, N. P. “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo: Pandemic Avian Influenza and the Legal Preparations and Consequences of an H5N1 Outbreak.” Health Matrix: Journal of Law-Medicine 16.2 (2006): 511-551.
Plait, Phil. “Disneyland, Measles, and Blame.” Slate. 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/02/03/disneyland_measles_anti_vax_beliefs_are_just_one_part_of_all_this.html.
Weinreb, Steven L. “For the Herd’s Sake, Vaccinate.” New York Times. 27 Dec. 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/opinion/for-the-herds-sake- vaccinate.html?_r=0.