While Madagascar Records a Historic Measles Epidemic, Anti-Vaccine Bills Are Introduced in the United States

April 14, 2019 Rene F. Najera

According to the Associated Press, over 1,200 people have died in Madagascar as a result of a measles epidemic dating to last year. The AP reports:

“Only 58% of people on Madagascar’s main island have been vaccinated against measles, a major factor in the outbreak’s spread. With measles one of the most infectious diseases, immunization rates need to be 90% to 95% or higher to prevent outbreaks.

On a recent day, the Iarintsena health center’s waiting room was full, with mothers sitting on the floor and others waiting outside in the overwhelming heat. Two volunteer nurses and a midwife tried to meet the demand.

Nifaliana Razaijafisoa had walked 15 kilometers (9 miles) with her 6-month-old baby in her arms.

“He has a fever,” she said. “I think it’s measles because there are these little pimples that have appeared on his face.”

The nurse quickly confirmed it.

“I’m so scared for him because in the village everyone says it kills babies,” Razaijafisoa said.

The outbreak has killed mostly children under 15 since it began in September, according to the World Health Organization.

“The epidemic unfortunately continues to expand in size,” though at a slower pace than a month ago, said Dr. Dossou Vincent Sodjinou, a WHO epidemiologist in Madagascar. By mid-March, 117,075 cases had been reported by the health ministry, affecting all regions of the country.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, there are several bills in state legislatures to make it easier for parents to skip the measles vaccine – and other childhood vaccines – out of unfounded fears about vaccine safety. For example, a bill in Missouri would not allow schools to exclude children from attending classes if they are not vaccinated and if there is an outbreak going on. In Arizona, a bill would force physicians to hand over “a stack of papers” to patients to explain in fine detail all of the risks and benefits of a vaccine. (Vaccine Information Statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already do this in a summarized way and in language that is non-technical and easy to understand.) The same bill would allow parents to opt out of vaccination requirements for religious reasons, allowing their children to attend public schools. A bill similar to the one in Arizona is among several anti-vaccine bills being discussed.

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