October 31, 2002
UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
COMPLACENCY THE LIKELY CAUSE OF MEASLES
EPIDEMIC IN THE SEATTLE AREA
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The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC)
publishes articles about people who have suffered or died from
vaccine-preventable diseases and occasionally devotes an "IAC EXPRESS" issue
to such an article. This is the 51st in our series.
This Unprotected People account is based on an article written by Mark Kane,
MD, director of the Children's Vaccine Program at PATH (Program for
Appropriate Technology in Health). When he wrote the article in
February 2001, public health officials in King County, Washington, where
Seattle is located, had seen 11 cases of measles, a number that
qualifies as an epidemic in a U.S. community in the twenty-first century.
Dr. Kane contends that the success of vaccines in preventing disease, and
parents' consequent unfamiliarity with vaccine-preventable diseases,
leads them to question the value of immunization. When they refuse
immunization for their children, they put them at serious risk for
developing diseases that can have serious health consequences,
The article first appeared on the opinion page of the "Seattle
Post-Intelligencer" on February 28, 2001, under the title "Complacency
Americans are in danger of contracting a dangerous disease--one that affects
millions of people who live in countries with stable governments, strong
health systems, and excellent sanitation.
The disease is called complacency.
Many Americans have never seen a child struggling to breathe due to whooping
cough or unable to walk because of polio. Our national immunization program
has been so successful that its only visible results are millions of healthy
kids--the bugs that frightened our parents and grandparents seem to have
So when nurses arrive with injections to prevent diseases we've never seen,
we might narrow our eyes with suspicion. Some parents, trying to
research the subject, become paralyzed in confusion after finding lots of
contradictory information on the Internet. Others fall prey to the disease
of complacency, refusing vaccines for their children or delaying
immunization until it's too late.
Though the vast majority of Americans willingly get the full course of
immunization for children, we still cringe when we see the needle. We want
reassurance that immunization is worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the reality check often comes in the form of an outbreak of
disease. This month [February 2001] officials have seen 11 cases of measles
in King County. This outbreak occurs less than a year after the Centers for
Disease Control announced that measles is no longer endemic in the United
States. Only 99 cases of measles were reported in the entire country in
1999, so 11 cases are significant. But endemic or not, a virus such as
measles does not respect political boundaries.
The virus that arrived here likely came from South Korea, where nearly
30,000 people get the disease yearly.
Worldwide, measles is the largest childhood killer among all the
vaccine-preventable diseases, taking the lives of almost 1 million people
each year. The measles virus is highly contagious and can live up to two
hours outside the body, traveling through the air from victim to victim.
Because the disease does not manifest itself until one to three weeks after
exposure, the virus spreads unnoticed. One in 500 people dies from
complications relating to measles and some suffer permanent hearing loss or
brain damage. We are thankful that measles vaccination rates are relatively
high in King County--most of us are protected already--and it is unlikely
that someone will die from our epidemic.
It is when immunization programs falter--because of war, governmental
instability, or complacency--that life-threatening diseases return in force.
A recent example: After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia's health
systems deteriorated, including the national immunization program. The
country soon experienced a serious epidemic of diphtheria that lasted for
Conscientious and well-meaning parents who refuse immunization--even when
the vaccines are available--put their children at enormous risk of
contracting infectious diseases. Although measles, polio, diphtheria, and
tetanus are rarely seen in America, they still exist and are ready to attack
the unprotected at a moment's notice.
Immunization is known as the greatest public health achievement of all time,
saving about 3 million lives worldwide each year. The value of vaccines is a
compelling story--one that, unfortunately, needs to be told again and again.
It would be a shame to succumb to the disease of complacency and wait for
another outbreak to remind us of the importance of these simple, safe, and
lifesaving medical miracles.
[The article concludes by directing the reader to the Allied Vaccine Group,
to which the Children's Vaccine Program at PATH belongs.] The Allied Vaccine
is a partnership of independent, science-based Web sites providing
up-to-date information on vaccines and immunization.
For a camera-ready (PDF) version of the article as it appeared in the
"Seattle Post-Intelligencer," go to:
To read other IAC Unprotected People stories in either HTML or camera-ready
(PDF) format, go to:
DISCLAIMER: The Immunization Action Coalition
(IAC) publishes Unprotected People stories for the purpose of making
them available for our readers' review. We have not verified this story's
content, for which the authors are solely responsible.
DO YOU KNOW OF STORIES OF UNPROTECTED PEOPLE? Please let us know if you have
personal stories of people who have suffered or died from
vaccine-preventable diseases or if you know of stories that have appeared in
the media describing suffering that occurred because someone was not
immunized. Send your stories or case reports to IAC Express by email to
firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to