Measles, Anti-vaxxers, and White House Chaos
A million years ago, I wrote a blog post about Jenny McCarthy and the fraudulent anti-vaccine movement with which she was heavily involved. You can read it here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/should-a-former-playboy-m_n_206648 It was probably the second post I wrote for Huffington Post, and 1400 comments ensued. My ability to draw attention to the issue registered with the HuffPo editorial staff, and one of the top editors called me to congratulate me and tell me I could post any time I wanted to in the future. My fifteen minutes of fame felt pretty good.
Well, I'm back. Multiple measles outbreaks are now taking place in the US, and I continue to run into all sorts of mis-information about why this vaccine-preventable disease is making a come back and endangering unvaccinated babies, children and adults.
Last week, a friend posted this misguided analysis by Masha Gessen of The New Yorker on Facebook. https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/why-measles-is-a-quintessential-political-issue-of-our-time?fbclid=IwAR26IPOmDSzWrkFhrWSCp7u56afAb-d-ny0uQOtpdMfkJTEM1V3OaRI2-TA While Ms. Gessen mentions some of the different threads of the anti-vaccine movement (parents who still believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism, Russian bots spreading misinformation on social media, well-off, college-educated parents in certain West Coast communities opting out of school-mandated vaccines), she ultimately blames doctors and the US health care system for infantilizing patients and thus spurring on the anti-vaccine movement. The US health care system has many faults--it's way too expensive and millions of people living in America still lack health insurance--but I have not seen any evidence that the system itself blocks children from getting the measles vaccines they need. The Vaccines for Children program provides free vaccines to uninsured kids and kids who have Medicaid. I have worked in many community health centers over the years, and parents have always been able to bring their kids in for vaccines at low or no cost. The city of Chicago operates free vaccine clinics. Ms Gessen may have had a hard time as a patient in the US health care system--she was required in a ridiculous way to do a pregnancy test before a CT scan once, according to her article, and I am sorry about that. But she offers no convincing evidence to back up her assertion that our troubled health care system is fueling the measles outbreak.
She is really missing a critical point: our chaotic white house and the incredibly dangerous and damaging Trump presidency are helping to fuel the measles outbreak. Trump has tweeted support for anti-vaxxers multiple times. It's part of the anti-science Trump machine: his base loves him for it, but he's endangering the country. This recent CNN article nicely wraps up the many ways that Trump supports the anti-vaccine movement and undermines science. https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/14/opinions/darla-shine-trump-vaccine-conspiracy-dantonio/index.html
To understand what a US president who believes in science and uses the best public health principles and experts to protect people living in the US can do, let's think back to the infectious disease crisis that proceeded the current Measles outbreaks, the Ebola epidemic of 2014. When sporadic cases of Ebola started turning up in the US, mostly in aid workers returning from affected African countries, the Obama White House handled the emerging crisis with skill, excellent judgment and effectiveness. From my viewpoint, President Obama directed the US public health leadership to do exactly what they needed to do contain the affected people, treat them and save their lives, and keep the general public informed. No one in the White House was fueling anti-science claims and instigating panic. President Obama kept us all calm, handled the issue in the best way possible, and the number of people infected with Ebola decreased quickly so no additional people got hurt.
Now measles is spreading, anti-vaxxers are out in full force, and Trump is fanning the flames of fear, anti-science and all sorts of false public health and medical claims. The White House may revel in chaos. What our country needs to stay safe and healthy is public health and science-based leadership.