If you are a time traveler from the distant past of 2015, this news might startle you:
The Americas are now free of measles and we have vaccines to thank, the Pan American Health Organization said earlier this week.
This is the first region in the world to be declared measles-free, despite longtime efforts to eliminate the disease entirely. The condition — which causes flu-like symptoms and a blotchy rash — is one of the world’s most infectious diseases. It’s transmitted by airborne particles or direct contact with someone who has the disease and is highly contagious, especially among small children.
The Americas – North, South, and Central – have completely eradicated measles, a disease that once claimed the lives of thousands of people every year (and still does in many parts of the world). That’s a far cry from our time traveler’s home in 2015, when headlines like this one were being blasted out nearly every day.
So what changed?
The answer: America, for once in its history, refused to indulge the idiots making the problem worse and instead got serious about fixing it.
For starters, the anti-vaccination movement championed by all manner of quacks, charlatans and Jenny McCarthys, was relentlessly mocked, debunked, and exposed. The tried-and-true way of bleaching nonsense from the public consciousness by the spotlight of awareness was put to use and not even the darkest corners of the web were safe. The claims that vaccinations can cause autism? Systematically dismantled by everyone from scientists to late night television shows.
What’s more, the idea that parents should be allowed to put everyone at risk by choosing not to vaccinate their children was repeatedly slapped down by sensible judges in courts across the country. California, which had become ground zero for new measles outbreaks, came down especially hard on would be anti-vaxxer parents. School districts also stepped in to help stop the lunacy by imposing mandatory vaccination requirements that would send kids home if their parents did fulfill their obligation to immunize their children.
California’s new vaccination law, which often is called by its legislative title Senate Bill 277, went into effect July 1, 2016. To recap: Parents do not have to immunize their children. But under the new law, children must be immunized against 10 serious communicable diseases if they want to attend public or private schools and child care centers. If unvaccinated, children must be home schooled or enrolled in independent study with no classroom instruction.
The results speak for themselves. NPR spoke with Dr. Seth Berkley, who runs a non-profit working to immunize children around the world, about the dramatic drop in measles cases seen this year.
The Americas are now free of endemic measles transmission. That means measles is no longer being transmitted within that region from strains that [already are] there. But cases of measles can be imported from outside, and if you haven’t been vaccinated, you can get the disease, and you can also transmit it.
In the U.S., between January and September of this year there have been 54 cases of measles in 16 states. In 2015 there were 189 cases. And in 2014 there were 667.
And all because America decided not to have a serious debate with unserious people. Perhaps there is a broader message there?
Featured image via Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images