In addition to the measles outbreak, the flu season is still ongoing, and Health Services will continue to offer vaccinations for the flu through the end of March.
“The CDC has said that nine out of 10 people who are not vaccinated, if they are around someone with it, will be infected,” said coordinator of health services Jackie Bevilacqua. “Those who are not vaccinated are very vulnerable.”
The outbreak began in California last December, and the California Department of Public Health reported 110 confirmed cases of the measles this Wednesday. The outbreak began at Disneyland and led to outbreaks in other states, though Texas has not yet been affected by the outbreaks. As the measles spread to more states, people are reacting in various ways, with some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children for a variety of reasons, including the fear that vaccinations can lead to autism. This fear originates from a now discredited research paper published in a medical journal, “The Lancet,” in 1998.
“In my generation, as before me, children would get [the measles, mumps and rubella] and die from them, and that was a fact of life,” said professor Robert Blystone. “I know the before and after [of measles vaccination and eradication]. Many younger people do not.”
The measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000 as an endemic virus. Even though this was confirmed, measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations are still necessary for entering the university unless a waiver is acquired. This is because elimination does not mean that the virus is not present in the United States, and those without vaccines would be at great risk of contracting the virus should they be exposed to someone who had the measles.
“Even if you are 20 years old and have never been vaccinated, then you have the opportunity to make that decision and to respond to that,” Blystone said.
The issue of vaccination and whether or not it should be legally required is still one that causes debate. To not vaccinate oneself or one’s children is a decision that many feel should be left up to the individual. Others argue that choosing not to vaccinate puts more than just the individual at risk for the disease, and can contribute to outbreaks such as this one.
“We have proof that vaccines work. They take advantage of the immune system’s natural machinery to improve your chances of fighting off similar antigens,” said senior Logan Yang.
Individuals and children are vulnerable when not vaccinated, though vaccinations can be administered to adults as well as children should they seek to be vaccinated. Health Services keeps measles, mumps and rubella vaccines for people who were not vaccinated before coming to the university. Health Services also encourages members of the university to get vaccinated against the flu, as the flu season extends through March, and for some will continue as they travel abroad.
“For students traveling abroad to South America, the flu season is just beginning,” Bevilacqua said. “Dr. Wilder will do a thorough review of their vaccinations and recommend vaccines or prophylactics.”
Bevilacqua noted that there are ways for students to avoid contracting the flu, including Tamiflu, which requires a prescription. She explained that over-the-counter medications treat the symptoms, not the illness, until one’s immune system is able to fight it off. She encourages students to seek vaccination for the flu from health services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday.
“Where are we as a public,” Blystone said. “The public, reinforced by legal decisions, made a decision regarding smoking. At what point does the public exercise its prerogative regarding the measles vaccine?”