Back in 2000, the Americas were cited as an example of how to effectively eradicate measles infections by prestigious medical journals; who would have thought that 15 years later, the vaccination for this disease is poised to become a topic in our upcoming presidential race?

A rare moment of clarification occurred Monday morning, in different settings and an ocean apart: President Barack Obama instructed parents to vaccinate their children just as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seemed to cast doubt upon their requirement. “The science is indisputable,” Obama said*. Parents should have a “measure of choice,” Christie said.

…Christie’s remarks were followed by a report that Iowa Freedom Summit speaker Carly Fiorina had made a similar statement last week, an indication that the GOP 2016 field, even its establishment flank, was beginning to see an incentive in expressing vaccination doubts.

Christie later “clarified” his initial statement; and Senator Rand Paul has also weighed in, expressing concerns about mental disorders as a side effect.

As “antivaxxers” becomes a new derogatory term, politicians are evolving faster than bacteria in order to appeal to millennial voters, because 1-in-5 of that golden demographic believes vaccines cause autism.

I am an environmental health and occupational safety specialist, so I regularly address risks associated with biohazardous materials. I am a strong believer in the need for vaccinations, especially for measles, which can be fatal. But like most reasonable Americans, I also want to make my medical choices based on the most complete set of information available.

So, as President Obama calls for vaccinations in the midst of the current outbreak, I think it is important to consider two historical factors: 1) The Great Swine Flu Vaccine Drive; and, 2) Annual infection rates.

The last time the Obama Administration clamored for vaccinations was in 2009. The “smart set” pushed the panic button on H1N1 /’Swine Flu” projections, and the government bought 229 million doses of the vaccine, of which only 91 million doses were used. Most of the remainder was destroyed.

CBS News revealed the details on how the Swine Flu cases were overestimated:

50 states for their statistics on state lab-confirmed H1N1 prior to the halt of individual testing and counting in July. The results reveal a pattern that surprised a number of health care professionals we consulted. The vast majority of cases were negative for H1N1 as well as seasonal flu, despite the fact that many states were specifically testing patients deemed to be most likely to have H1N1 flu, based on symptoms and risk factors, such as travel to Mexico.

So, the administration’s current demands for enhanced vaccination might be justifiably met with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Now, let’s take a look at the current measles outbreak in comparison to what has recently been observed. There is an image from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is in itself quite compelling:

While plenty of the reported cases can be traced to visitors from the Philippines, where a huge outbreak infected 20,000 people and caused 69 deaths, not all of them are attributable to that one country.

So, how did the other infections occur?

Texas border patrol officials were sounding the alarm about disease concerns they had in 2014:

Since October, authorities in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector have detained an unprecedented 160,000 undocumented immigrants, including more than 33,500 unaccompanied minors. These immigrants were transferred to federal detention centers, where they have been held temporarily.

During a tour of detention centers in Brownsville and McAllen last week, state public health officials identified several health-related issues, including a lack of medicine for child immigrants, no comprehensive medical screenings and no testing for vaccinations or tuberculosis.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Customs and Border Protection agents conduct medical screenings for several symptoms — rash, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea — shortly after detainees come into federal custody at border patrol stations. Once the immigrants are transported to detention facilities, they are screened “for signs of illness consistent with communicable diseases of public health concern,” agency officials say.

But state officials said the medical screenings are not sufficient because they’re only being conducted on a verbal and visual basis.

Yet, reports indicate that Central American countries, the original home of many of the 2014 summer surgers, have vaccination rates that exceed our own:

World Bank statistics indicate that some of the countries that the kids are traveling from actually have higher vaccination rates than the United States. The U.S. has a 92 percent vaccination rate for measles. Mexico vaccinates 99 percent of its children; Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras all have a 93 percent vaccination rate.

But those rates are not 100%, and logic would suggest that the poorest children likeliest to gamble on entering the country during the surge are probably more likely not to be vaccinated.

However, any outbreak from the summer influx would not be associated with today’s cases — the incubation period for any of the 21 strains of measles is 10-12 days. But I think it is safe to assume “undocumented travelers” are still entering the country regularly — and perhaps even making their way to Disneyland, too.

So while a smart politician would encourage — not mandate — vaccination, an even smarter one would ask if there are better ways to vaccinate, and a genius one would investigate the origins of today’s spike in measles and outbreaks of other severe illnesses we have been reporting here. A super-genius candidate would have a thoughtful plan for disease “control and prevention” so such outbreaks would end.

I would advise those contemplating vaccination, re-vaccination, or having their children vaccinated to talk to a healthcare professional and perhaps arrange to get the measles portion of the standard vaccination, should there be concerns about too much vaccine all at one time. And given the fact that we have seen an increasing number of mumps cases in this country, and that rubella can cause birth defects when it infects pregnant women, assessing the need and perhaps developing a schedule to receive those shots would be prudent as well.

I suspect that there will be even more infectious disease outbreaks for the next several years, so this will be a key issue for any presidential hopeful. I look forward to hearing what the candidates propose…beyond condemning and deriding “antivaxxers.”

[Featured Image: CBS Evening News]


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