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Disneyland Measles Outbreak: An Alert For India

28/01/2015 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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AFP via Getty Images
JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Children look as a young girl gets vaccinated in Jakarta, 27 February 2007. IndonesiaIndonesia has launched a campaign to vaccinate 14 million children against measles. The campaign is supported by UNICEF, the American Red Cross and the World Health Organisation. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD (Photo credit should read AHMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Disneyland: the place synonymous with Mickey Mouse, great childhood memories and now... measles! The measles outbreak in California appears to be spreading to other states in the US, its source believed to be Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure Park in Anaheim.

Unfortunately, a majority of the affected individuals were not vaccinated, the easiest way to avoid this disease. This alarming trend of non-vaccination has been growing in America due to parents who believe (against all scientific evidence) that vaccination is unnecessary or even harmful to their children. This is a great disservice to the community as a less than 80% immunisation rate can adversely affect "herd immunity" - contagious infections are less likely to reach epidemic proportions because if a majority of people have immunity against a disease, it cannot spread easily.

This trend in America is surprisingly growing in affluent, educated communities where people are opting not to vaccinate their children because they do not want to put "chemicals" in their bodies. Unfortunately, people have become complacent and have forgotten that before 1963 (the year that the measles vaccine was introduced), there were 30 to 40 lakh cases of measles every year in America. Out of sight, out of mind!

This serves as a lesson for countries like India, which are working hard to eradicate these preventable diseases in very difficult circumstances. Just last year the WHO declared India polio free and, interestingly, measles is being targeted as the next disease for eradication. Here is the challenge though: once we declare a disease "eradicated" it is very easy to get complacent and for parents to forget lessons of the past (or believe pseudoscience) and choose not to vaccinate their children. Government agencies also have to maintain a sense of urgency as complacency can lead to the disease roaring back to life. Remember, measles was declared "eliminated" from America in 2000 and here we are a decade and half later, confronting a very preventable outbreak again. As the age-old mantra goes: prevention is definitely better than cure.