Amid reports of outbreaks across the United States of measles — a disease declared eradicated here by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000 — comes news of a disturbing prospect in Wisconsin’s largest city.
More than 11,000 students in Milwaukee Public Schools alone did not receive all required vaccinations this school year including those to prevent measles, polio, diphtheria and hepatitis B, according to state health records, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported May 9.
That’s nearly 15% of MPS students, which means there could be too few vaccinated students within district boundaries to sustain herd immunity, which prevents newborn babies, unvaccinated children or adults in poor health from contracting diseases that could disable or kill them.
“It’s like you have a can of gasoline and you’re just waiting for someone to drop a match,” said James Conway, a doctor who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases and associate director for health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.
State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, has written a bill that would make it difficult for unvaccinated children to attend school: “We’re going to increase vaccination rates one of two ways: We’re going to pass this bill ... or we’re going to have a measles outbreak,” he said.
Given the Milwaukee statistics, Hintz’s statement doesn’t sound like hyperbole.
Hintz’s bill is not receiving support from Republicans. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he is opposed to mandatory vaccination.
“I don’t think that anybody should have — that the government should have the ability to mandate that something has to happen to your child,” Vos said. “Now, would I support an education campaign because I think vaccination is right? I would.”
Then let’s have it.
Let’s have the bill, with bipartisan support, to fund a pro-vaccination campaign throughout Wisconsin.
The United States achieved measles eradication in 2000 because two generations of Americans – the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 – were raised by parents who had seen the painful effects of the highly contagious rash. In the decade before 1963, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age, the CDC reports on its website. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year; an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis — swelling of the brain — from measles.
So by 2000, measles had been eradicated; less than 20 years later, we have measles outbreaks.
Some cases of unvaccinated children in Milwaukee, and elsewhere in the nation, are a matter of insufficient access to vaccinations.
However, we note that in the year 2000 American adult internet use reached 52 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. More than half of the adult population.
The internet spreads misinformation, and outright lies, just as fast as it spreads accurate information. Not everyone can discern the difference between an informed opinion and an uninformed opinion. Although we would have thought everyone accepts that a physician knows more about diseases than, say, someone with no evident medical degree posting something in opposition to vaccinations on social media.
This is what a Wisconsin pro-vaccination campaign would be up against.
We’re going to need a widespread, well-funded campaign – print, TV, radio and billboards – to push back against the nonsense being spread on the internet.
We look forward to watching Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats come together to put their shared knowledge of the effectiveness of vaccinations into action.