ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — Within the last month, over 70 cases of measles have occurred in six states across the U.S., as well as Mexico, after an outbreak at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease that results in rashes, red eyes, and sore throats, has managed to make a resurgence despite its virtual eradication in the U.S. in the 1970s.
The specifics of its spread rest in the practice of vaccination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the MMR, the vaccination for measles, be given in two doses to babies and children, but vaccinations such as MMR are not required in many states.
California is one of those states.
Parents can opt-out of giving their children the shot by filling out a personal belief exemption form, and in 2014, a massive 13,592 personal belief exemptions were filed in California.
Opting-out of the MMR vaccine is a choice parents make for numerous reasons, but the most prevalent stems from questions about the safety of vaccinations.
Doctors don’t agree.
“Vaccines have been one of the most effective ways of preventing and controlling disease. Vaccines are extremely safe,” says Dr. Saad Omer, an associate professor at Emory University’s Vaccine Center. “They do have very rare side effects, but the evidence of the vaccine is overwhelmingly in favor of vaccination.”
Others in the medical community agree, like Dr. Michael K. Gusmano, a bioethics and health policy researcher at The Hastings Center in Garrison, New York.
“There have been multiple studies showing these vaccinations are safe,” he adds.
Yet, despite all of those in favor of vaccination, some parents are still adamantly against vaccinating their child.
Studies have examined the safety of current vaccines and their schedules, but these safety examinations have done little to reassure these parents.
A general lack of trust for medical professionals, the health industry and the government may be at the root of the growing anti-vaccine movement.
“It seems to me that a general dissatisfaction and distrust with the medical community has grown over the years,” Dr. Richard Rothenberg, Director of the Research Core for Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said. “Now everybody is very clued into the mistakes of medicine and the things that go wrong and a distrust of that kind of advice; some of which is healthy, but some of which I think can be very destructive.”
Despite the CDC’s statements that the growing outbreak of measles is linked to the decline in child vaccinations, past incidents of dishonesty from pharmaceuticals and government organizations have a persistent hold.
“There’s a history of industries and government creating very real hazards,” Dr. Michael Greger, physician and researcher at Cornell University, says. “How is the average person supposed to know whether it’s all total nonsense or if it really does have some truth to it?”
A controversial and now redacted article ran in the publication The Lancet in 1998 with claims that vaccinations caused autism and soon after in the mid-2000s, actress Jenny McCarthy made statements on unsafe vaccines being related to her son becoming autistic.
Combined with an elevated level of distrust, these events only fanned the flames of the anti-vaccination movement.
According to some in the medical community, public health and the medical field as a whole may also be at fault.
“One has to blame the general knowledge of the population, and the way that we communicate things in public health,” Rothenberg says.
“We have let our public education systems, in general, deteriorate,” Rothenberg adds. “If people were better informed, and better able to think about these issues, and more concerned with them, I think we would have much better policy and politics as well.”
A large responsibility falls on the public health system to educate and disseminate information, including information about vaccines and their safety.
With some saying the public health education system finds its weakness in informing the general public of the importance of vaccinations, a spotlight is put on the blame that this system shares with the pervasive distrust of the medical community and the erroneous information that is circulated.
There could be a deeper current running behind the current measles outbreak that is not so easily pinned on the anti-vaccine movement.