We're a nation of scaredy-cats. There are no two ways about that. We're easily susceptible not to disease but to the fear of disease -- something far more virulent -- and the media narrative that both drives it and cynically gloms onto it. When Americans thought Ebola was going to burn its way across the contiguous 48 leaving bled-out bodies in its wake, it was all anybody could talk about, especially the press. Any health professional could've told you that the chances of actually becoming infected with Ebola were on par with being struck by lightning while getting attacked by a shark on your way to pick up your lottery winnings, but that hardly mattered. We have a deeply ingrained fear of disease and of something happening to our children, which explains why it really looks like, as a culture, we've finally reached an inevitable tipping point when it comes to how we view the ridiculous anti-vaccine movement.
All it took was an outbreak at Disneyland that's now spreading at an exponential rate for us to come around -- an outbreak that, unlike Ebola, actually does represent a danger to American lives.
Search the word "vaccine" in Google News right now and more than a dozen stories come up, almost all of them putting the blame for this outbreak of a dangerous disease thought eradicated years ago right where it belongs: on the arrogant, largely affluent, perfectly ignorant "anti-vaxxers." These were always people who, rather than trust the word of men and women with actual medical degrees, were more than happy to cede decisions on the well-being of their children to whatever b-list celebrity mom could show the most moral certitude and scare the crap out of them most effectively. They assumed that because they could read something on the internet it made them a doctor. They just knew, because they were parents -- and a parent knows. Except they didn't. They didn't know shit. And now, as we were warned over and over again, society at large gets to pay the price.
As the Los Angeles Times reported just yesterday, the number of cases related to the current California-based outbreak now stands at 87, with 50 in seven separate states definitively linked to visiting Disneyland. California patients range in age from seven months to 70 years and potential cases are being reported across the state. Second-order infections are now being diagnosed, meaning people who didn't visit Disneyland but who came into contact with someone who did. California in particular is now trying to get ahead of the outbreak, warning people that if they believe they have the measles -- which is highly contagious -- to call ahead to the hospital so health officials can make preparations for containment. The Timesgoes on to report that one urgent care clinic outside San Diego was forced to shut down when five potential measles patients came in at one time. Meanwhile a baseball coach at Santa Monica High School has been diagnosed, which led to an alert being sent out to parents.
If there's a silver lining here, or if you're into dark humor, there's a wonderful irony in the fact that Santa Monica was named specifically in a recent Hollywood Reporter investigation into wealthy Southern California cities that have shockingly low vaccination rates. The piece declared that some wealthy areas have vaccination rates lower than those in Sudan. In other words, affluent Southern Californians, who have access to the best health care in the world, are allowing themselves to be as susceptible to disease as those living in the Third World. In Sudan, it's poverty that can kill you. Here, it's just stupidity.
John Swartzburg, an emeritus professor at the Berkeley School of Public Health, calls the growing California outbreak a huge "red flag" for the country and noted that every measles patient has the potential to infect 12 to 18 unvaccinated people. Now before anyone dismisses this as just being a problem for the idiots who chose not to vaccinate their children or themselves, as Swartzburg says, measles can be devastating to those too young to be vaccinated (like, for example, the infants brought to Disneyland every single day). There's also a small percentage of people in which the vaccine -- one of the most effective in the world -- doesn't take or who haven't had the necessary booster to be fully protected. These are people who can then go on to infect others.
With the spread of not only the measles but news about the measles outbreak, doctors in California are reportedly being overwhelmed with requests for the MMR vaccine. For those who haven't been paying attention all this time, that's the vaccine the anti-vaxxers believe can cause autism in children -- an alleged link which was initially based on fraudulent research and which has been disproved more than once. Even the doctor most often associated with former Playboy bunny and game show host Jenny McCarthy -- who more than any other single person may be most to blame for the anti-vaxxer lunacy -- says he's been inundated with patients seeking the vaccine. Dr. Jay Gordon of, surprise, Santa Monica claims that he's not necessarily against vaccines, he just believes parents should have the ability to decide for themselves. The problem is, many of the parents he sees are more than willing to put whatever holistic, pseudoscientific nonsense they see on Oprah before proven medicine and their decisions impact other children who aren't their own. Which is exactly what we're seeing now.
This is what's leading people like Swartzburg to stop playing nice and it's what's led the media to finally listen and get on board. "A small but very vocal minority is perpetuating this myth (the danger from vaccines), and we have to stop accommodating them,” he says. “As with climate change, there is no legitimate debate. Both climate change and the efficacy and safety of vaccinations are as real as the sun rising." In 2012, a bill came before Governor Jerry Brown that required anyone who wanted a "philosophical exemption" to school-mandated vaccines to provide proof he or she had been counseled by a reputable physician. Brown defanged the bill by simply allowing for a "religious exemption," and as you know, particularly in California, anything can pass for a religion.
Back to that point about Sudan: Melinda Gates may have the best response to those who are still, for God knows what reason, superstitious about vaccinating their children. "We take vaccines so for granted in the United States," she said to The Huffington Post. "Women in the developing world know the power of (vaccines). They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine, because they have seen death. (Americans have) forgotten what measles deaths look like." We have. We've become victims of our own affluence, the affluence which affords some of us the luxury of trying to concoct nonexistent threats from which to cower in terror. And so there are those among us who've thought all this time that vaccines were the problem rather than the solution, but we're all finally seeing what the real threat is. We're now seeing what we were promised -- what the anti-vaxx movement in this country has wrought.
It shouldn't need to be said anymore but it absolutely does need to be said: Vaccinate your damn kids. If you don't vaccinate at all or if you don't do it according to the CDC's recommended schedule, you're a lousy parent. Worse than that, you're a lousy, selfish human being. My 6-year-old daughter lives in Orange County, a half-hour away from Disneyland. She's fully vaccinated, but I still worry because who's to say she's not one of the handful of people who've received the vaccine but still aren't fully protected. It wouldn't matter if everyone around her was vaccinated as well. Now, though, it does. It matters a hell of a lot.
If you're not willing to vaccinate your children for their sake, do it for the sake of others. Although the way this measles outbreak is going, you may not have a choice much longer. The choice you did make just might have doomed it for good.