Editorial board: Vaccinating against the measles protects everyone
The week started with distressing health news: As of Monday, there were 555 confirmed cases of the measles so far this year across the United States. If the tide doesn't turn, cases in 2019 will reach a new high since 2000 -- the year measles was said to be eliminated in the U.S.
In other parts of the world, the picture is even more frightening, with a measles outbreak claiming 1,200 lives in Madagascar.
Parents in that island nation face obstacles getting their children vaccinated. In the U.S., not so much. Yet, only 9.8 percent of suburban public and private schools have 100 percent of the student population vaccinated against the measles, and some have rates below 80 percent, according to data compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education and reported recently by Daily Herald reporter Lauren Rohr.
Yes, there are exemptions for children who cannot be vaccinated for medical and religious reasons. But those two categories tell only part of the story. Michael Caplan, chairman of Northshore University HealthSystem Department of Pediatrics, told reporter Marni Pyke that "misinformation about vaccines by the anti-vaccination movement" has led to some parents deciding against the vaccine, despite research showing it to be both safe and effective.
"This is not an eradicated disease," he said. "It can cause serious harm and death."
Health officials are sounding the alarm. And parents who have not vaccinated their kids with the MMR vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella, need to listen.
While there are mild cases, measles can lead to serious -- and deadly -- complications. According to the Centers for Disease control, as many as one out of every 20 kids with the measles gets pneumonia, and about one out of 1,000 will develop swelling of the brain. For every 1,000 children who come down with the measles, the CDC says, one or two will die.
Parents need to protect their children and others who will come in contact with them, some too young -- or immune compromised -- to be vaccinated themselves.
The Advocate Northshore Pediatric Partnership is sending hundreds of letters to suburban parents whose children might not be vaccinated and urging them to reconsider. The campaign is an important first step, but the rising numbers prove more needs to be done.
Past problems have led to important changes. The 2015 measles outbreak at a Palatine KinderCare, for example, prompted a new Illinois law requiring day care workers to prove they're immune. That same year, Illinois lawmakers made it tougher to claim a religious exemption.
Other states have laxer laws, with some allowing philosophical exemptions. Because of travel, these affect people well beyond the respective state's borders.
Health authorities, school officials and lawmakers must continue to look for ways to close any remaining loopholes and push to protect all of us -- but especially the most vulnerable -- from the measles.