Opting Out of Vaccines Puts Others At Risk

Disturbing, but sadly unsurprising, news from the USA Today (H/T Ben Goldacre).  An outbreak of measles has already lead to three times the average number of cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and it’s just October.  Eighty-six percent of the diagnosed cases were either unvaccinated, or their vaccine status could not be determined.  Thirteen percent were too young to be vaccinated.  Like other outbreaks noted in the article, the problem resulted from unvaccinated people traveling to parts of the world where the disease is more prevalent and the vaccination rates are lower.  While I get that there are rules permitting opting out of otherwise mandatory vaccinations, I would think measles vaccinations could be part of the required shots for foreign travel.

Even more distributing news on measles vaccines from Canada.  An outbreak in Canada that was caused by many of the same factors as those in the U.S. has also serious affected children who had gone through the customary two-dose vaccine schedule.  While it’s useful to know that the schedule may need to be adjusted, it still remains that such outbreaks can be greatly curtailed by higher vaccination rates.

Putting aside the suffering involved with measles, there’s the cost.  As described in the article,

“Dr. Karyn Leniek, deputy state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said an outbreak occurred when one unvaccinated high school student, who had been to Europe, brought measles back with him.

“Although only nine people became infected, the cost of containing the outbreak was about $300,000. Costs included infection control in two area hospitals and intervention by local and state health departments. Costs also included physician and staff time, vaccines, immunoglobulin and blood tests, according to the study.

“Containing the outbreak meant contacting 12,000 people about possible exposure and quarantining 184 people, including 51 students. Of the teens not vaccinated, including the European traveler, six were unvaccinated due to personal exemptions.”

I don’t know how many who opt out of the vaccine would be persuaded by the economic argument (lower government spending due to fewer outbreaks), but this might be a useful change in strategy from continuing to fight this battle on the science.

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