Measles has become a worldwide problem again. In the Democratic Republic of Congo measles is killing more people than Ebola, and it’s killing them faster than Ebola. The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten biggest threats to world health for 2019, and vaccine hesitancy is responsible for the biggest surge in measles cases in the United States since 1994. Why is measles making a comeback if it is vaccine preventable?

How Measles Came Under Control

Measles was first documented in 1657 in Boston, but the first vaccine didn’t come until 1963. After a few breakthroughs more effective measles vaccines were developed, and by 1989 two doses of the MMR were being given to children as a requirement to attend school. 

Then a few years later in 1994 the federally funded ‘Vaccines for Children’ program was created to help parents who couldn’t afford vaccines for their children get the needed vaccines. That year there were 958 cases of measles, one of the highest since the vaccine became available. Measles cases began to drop off sharply – 448 in 1996, then 138 a year later, and by the year 2000 there were just 86 cases of measles nationwide, which resulted in the declaration that measles was eliminated.

A Fraudulent Study Snowballs Out Of Control

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in a medical journal claiming he had found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Immediately, other researchers were unable to corroborate his findings, and in 2004 a journalist uncovered financial conflicts which caused Wakefield’s colleagues to withdraw their support of his findings. 

By 2010 the paper had been summarily discredited and retracted, but by then the damage was done. Frantic parents, wanting to do whatever they could to prevent their children from developing autism, had already started to refuse vaccines. Cases of measles eventually began to climb once again, bringing back this once eliminated disease and diverting resources that could have been used to tackle more pressing health concerns.

The Internet Plays A Role

Aiding in the spread of misinformation is the ease at which people can find bad information. Early on this information was found in chat rooms and you would have had to search for it, but then with the advent of social media it became easier to come in contact with bad information posted by well-meaning but misinformed friends. 

Dr. Kyle Yasuda, President of the National Academy of Pediatrics, wrote an open letter to Facebook, Google, and Pinterest in which he pleaded with them to stop the misinformation from spreading as one-on-one consultations with doctors was no longer enough to stem the tide of vaccine hesitancy. Other lawmakers and public health officials have followed suit, pleading with tech companies to stop the spread of dangerous misinformation.

YouTube added a warning about vaccine hesitancy to antivax videos, Pinterest replaced search results for such content with error messages, and Amazon removed controversial content for sale. Unfortunately there are still many steps that need to be taken to ensure people receive accurate information about vaccines so they can make decisions with better information. 

How Can We Stop The Outbreak?

Start by making sure you and your family are fully vaccinated. If you don’t know your vaccination history, you can get a titer test from your doctor to test whether you are immune. If you received an early version of the vaccine or if you only received one dose, you may need a booster. Learn more here.