Three years ago, the United Kingdom successfully eliminated measles thanks to decades of vaccinating kids with the safe and effective vaccine that rid the region of new cases of the deadly disease.
That’s it, right? A happy, disease-free ending?
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this month that as of August of this year, measles outbreaks around the world in 2019 are the highest they’ve been since 2006. Some of these outbreaks happen because of a lack of access to vaccines. But in other places including the U.S. and the UK, misinformation campaigns about the “danger” of vaccines has led people to incorrectly believe that vaccines cause more harm than they do good.
The U.S. is especially bad – the measles case count is as high as it’s been for a whopping 25 years. In Europe, close to 90,000 cases have already been reported just in the first six months of 2019, higher than the 84,462 cases reported throughout the entire year of 2018.
Boris Johnson Takes a Stand
Those numbers mean that the UK can’t be considered “measles free” any longer. While the moniker never meant that the region was entirely free of the disease, it did mean that new cases didn’t originate in the region.
Now, though, the measles-free status has been revoked. In a statement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain has seen hundreds of cases this year, and that his administration would be taking measures to drastically reduce that number.
Those measures include improving coverage for the vaccine, as well as developing campaigns that work to educate people on the importance and safety of vaccines. And they’re not relying solely on parents hearing those messages – the administration will also equip schools with campaign messages that will help to inform students about their health and help them to spot and critically assess misinformation campaigns spread by “vaccine hesitancy,” also colloquially known as anti-vaxxers.
Stopping a Contagion
In a perfect world, those campaigns wouldn’t be necessary. But in recent years, people have seemed to forget that the measles vaccine is a super effective way to eliminate a super contagious disease. They also don’t spread conditions including autism. And even if they did – which they don't! – autism doesn’t kill. Measles does!
And so vaccine hesitancy is now considered one of the top 10 threats to global health. It’s right up there with heavy hitters like pollution, HIV and high-threat pathogens like Ebola.
So how can you save lives by standing up against vaccine hesitancy? Get educated on the safety and efficacy of vaccines so that you can combat any misinformation with science-based facts. Figure out where you should be in your schedule of vaccines, and ask your friends if they’re up to date on their jabs. If you’re not, check out some of these resources that may be able to help you find out how to talk to your parents or guardian about getting caught up.
Remember that eliminating disease, especially wildly contagious ones like measles, relies on herd immunity, or at least 90-95 percent of citizens getting vaccinated against it. That means we’re all in this together, so make sure to step up and do your part to save lives.
About the Author
Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the latest innovation and development in the world of science. Her pieces on topics including DNA sequencing, tissue engineering and stem cell advances have been featured in publications including BioTechniques: the International Journal of Life Science Methods, Popular Mechanics, Futurism and Gizmodo.