California Measles Outbreak Is Over, But Pending Vaccination Legislation Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon
The happiest place on earth is finally safe again. The Disneyland-based measles outbreak that began in California in December is over, said public health officials on Friday. According to CDC reports, the outbreak was the largest since the 1989 epidemic which killed 70 people, and was likely brought into the country by a foreign traveler or an American returning from an overseas trip. Because of the high numbers of visitors the Disney park attracts every day, it's not surprising that the virus spread quickly. But as of Friday, said the Department of Public Health, no new cases had been reported in over 42 days. Despite the momentary quell in reported cases, officials say that pending legislation that would require all children to be vaccinated prior to entering kindergarten — and would likely prevent another epidemic like the one that originated at Disneyland — isn't going away anytime soon.
Luckily, out of the outbreak's 147 reported cases — which spanned seven U.S. states, Mexico, and Canada — no deaths were reported. But that doesn't mean it's back to the old grind.
"This is a wake-up call to make sure that we keep measles from regaining a foothold in our country," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC in a statement to the press on Jan. 29, just as the outbreak began gaining major traction. "This [outbreak] is not a problem of the measles vaccine not working, it's a problem of the measles vaccine not being used."
In order to stave off another wave of measles, several California legislators are considering bills which would essentially protect the public against a similar epidemic by forcing parents to obtain the proper vaccinations for their children.
"We are clearly at a point where our community immunity is dropping too low," said California State Senator Richard Pan, a physician, in a State Health Committee meeting on Wednesday. "[To believe otherwise] is a luxury."
A Senate Education Committee vote on measure SB 277, which would have required all children to be fully vaccinated, was stalled by a week on Wednesday after protesters swarmed the state capitol to contest what they believed was a scientifically unfounded piece of legislation.
"I strongly oppose injection of questionable materials into the bodies of our children as a condition of education," said environmental engineer Steve Wall in a comment to The New York Times. According to The Times, if the measure had passed, it would have made California the largest state to ban "exemptions from vaccines for any reason other than medical necessity", along with only two other states — Mississippi and West Virginia.
The outrage over the measure took some of the senators and supporters by surprise. "This [anti-vaccine movement] is a movement that has taken off, and you have people who feel so deeply about it that it doesn’t matter what information they get," said J. Theodore Anagnoson, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Thursday.
Since Friday's announcement that the measles outbreak had ended, however, many are choosing to focus on the positive while they await the Committee's upcoming vote.
"They did a tremendous job," said Dr. James Cherry, a UCLA infectious disease specialist, in an interview with The Washington Post, speaking of the health workers who stemmed the epidemic before it could get worse.
However, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that health officials were warning members of the public not to rest on their laurels. With the anti-vaccination movement growing to a clamor, they said, it was likely that health workers would see an influx in further viral outbreaks over the coming years unless those legislative guidelines were passed.
"Measles can be reintroduced in California at any time when an infected person brings it to the state," said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement on Friday morning. "The best defense for protection against the highly infectious measles is vaccination."
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