This Measles Outbreak Is a Manifestation of National Insanity

Charles P. Pierce
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Esquire

This is one of the weirdest sentences of the 21st Century, via Axios.

Measles outbreaks in 22 states so far in 2019 have now eclipsed levels seen in any year since the virus was declared eradicated in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The following is a rhetorical question: how in the hairy, unholy fck did this country get to this point at this point in history? It's bad enough that we're being hauled back to the 1890s economically and judicially, but now we're going back there with regard to public health? What's next? Public water wells and horse troughs so we can go back to the Gilded Age of cholera? The country of Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine becomes the country of John R. Brinkley and his goat balls? Why not just close the CDC and run the operation out of a covered wagon that rolls from town to town?

Popular Science has the skinny.

A large chunk of these cases have been within tight-knit communities with low vaccination rates. The outbreak in Washington state originated within a Slavic community, and the two ongoing situations in New York-in Rockland County and Brooklyn-are both largely situated within the Orthodox Jewish groups living in the area. This is true of many of the recent severe measles years. In 2014, more than half of the total cases were from a single outbreak among the Amish in Ohio. A small, concentrated group of Somali-Americans in Minnesota were the epicenter of the main 2017 outbreak, and Orthodox Jews represented many of the 2018 cases.

But there’s also the rising problem of vaccine exemptions. Many states allow parents to cite religious or philosophical objections to keep their children from getting vaccinated, and these lax laws have allowed certain communities to have immunization rates low enough to allow measles to spread. To prevent the virus from hopping between people, 95 percent of the population must be immune. But many states now have kindergarten populations with vaccination rates well below that point, meaning the extremely contagious virus can spread quickly if just one case winds up in the wrong place.

This is a manifestation of national insanity. According to the Supreme Court, religious exemptions cannot be granted to Native American tribes that have used peyote for sacramental purposes for longer than Christians have used bread and wine, but religious exemptions have to be observed in situations that genuinely endanger public health? And that's not even to mention the anti-vaxxers who get time on respectable media outlets.

Photo credit: Getty Images

All of which leads me to become terrified of what may happen if an outbreak of a far more perilous disease touches these shores. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the middle of a brutal civil war, there is a serious outbreak of Ebola. Medical professionals attempting to control the epidemic are becoming casualties of war. From Doctors Without Borders:

At the request of the Ministry of Health (MoH), Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is part of the national task force coordinating the intervention based on several pillars of the Ebola response. As of January 27, 2019, MSF had received 3,292 people at its Ebola treatment centers and transit centers in the affected region. We have treated a total of 321 patients confirmed with Ebola. MSF has also vaccinated more than 4,800 frontline health workers, who are among those at greatest risk of contracting the disease. Medical activities have been suspended at MSF's Ebola treatment centers in Butembo and Katwa after the facilities were attacked by unidentified assailants in late February. MSF has evacuated staff from the area for their safety pending a thorough analysis of the risks associated with continuing to provide medical care there.

Outside of organized violence, response to the outbreak in the DRC has been hindered by...wait for it...misinformation. From NPR:

But I spoke with Dr. Michel Yao, who is leading the Ebola response for the World Health Organization. And he says witnesses in that first attack told him that the gunmen were shouting, Ebola doesn't exist; you're just here to make money off of us. And it fits into a larger problem of mistrust in the local population. There have been years of armed conflict in this part of Congo. And people feel victimized by the government. So they don't trust authorities and, by extension, health workers.

We, of course, are far more civilized. We don't use guns. We put our misinformation on television.

Would anyone like to speculate what the response of this administration*, which is still led by the same president* and which still employs Stephen Miller, will be when and if one case of Ebola pops up in the United States? The precedents are not encouraging.

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