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Measles Cases in 2019 Have Hit a 25-Year High Amid Ongoing Outbreaks, CDC Says

Medical assistant draws an MMR vaccination at the Spanish Peaks Outreach Clinic on August 5, 2009 in Walsenburg, Colorado.
Medical assistant draws an MMR vaccination at the Spanish Peaks Outreach Clinic on August 5, 2009 in Walsenburg, Colorado.
Photo: John Moore (Getty)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said that measles cases hit a higher number this year than has been reported since 1994. If the outbreaks continue as they are, the health agency says it could cost the U.S. its elimination status.

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As of Thursday, the agency said, there have been 971 measles cases reported since the start of the year. CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement that the highly contagious virus is preventable, adding that “the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated.”

“I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents,” Redfield said. “Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being. CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end.”

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Measles is not only a potentially dangerous and super contagious virus but also an extremely costly one. As just one example, an outbreak in Washington earlier this year was expected to cost the state more than $1 million as health officials shuffled resources and scrambled to get it under control. Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick told the Seattle Times at the time that taxpayer money was paying for “something that could have been completely, utterly preventable in the first place.”

On top of that, this year’s record-breaking cases and ongoing outbreaks could undo the decades of effort that public health officials put into eliminating the virus in the U.S. in 2000, the CDC said this week. The agency specifically pointed to outbreaks in New York City and Rockland Couty, where hundreds of cases have been reported since last fall, as being of concern.

In the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs, 550 cases have been confirmed since September, which health officials say have primarily been reported in the Orthodox Jewish community. Another 254 cases have been confirmed in Rockland County. The CDC said that should these outbreaks carry on throughout the summer and fall, the U.S. could lose its elimination status.

In a statement about New York City’s ongoing measles outbreak, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot pressed for those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so immediately.

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“The recently identified cases are linked to exposures in neighborhoods with known measles activity,” Barbot said. “These cases prove the urgent need to get vaccinated, especially if you spend time in areas that are experiencing an outbreak. This message cannot be overstated—if you live, work or attend school in these sections of the city, get vaccinated if you are able.”

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DISCUSSION

Constant Colors

I’ve been thinking a lot about the approach that’s been taken when discussing antivaxxers and the reactions I’ve seen in response from antivaxxers.

For a lot of antivaxxers the primary motivation is fear driven by a lack of critical thinking skills.

Insults just play into the defensive fear reaction and our facts are no different from other “facts” that they know.

You see the same kind of reasoning when discussing religious beliefs. Which leads me to suspect that the same approaches which work for leading people away from religious thinking might work to show antivaxxers that they are deeply deeply mistaken in their beliefs.

Facts are great when people are receptive to them. But what needs to happen to develop that receptiveness is the development of a logical framework. Questioning how they know what they know and helping them figure out for themselves that their methods for understanding this situation are unreliable will probably be more effective than telling them Andrew Wakefield is a lying liar for the thousandth time.

It’s kind of unfortunate that this sort of thing only really works in a one on one setting though. But I think that if someone is going to claim to genuinely care about this issue then they should be willing to put in the effort to have those conversations when they arise and to be as knowledgeable as possible while being as open as possible to an honest dialogue.

I just see a lot of people talking past each other on these topics and as history is showing, this method is not working to develop a community and sense of a shared reality. It seems like a different approach is in order.