The news about the return of dangerous “childhood” illnesses gets worse and worse. Columbus, Ohio reports an outbreak of 225 cases—with over 50% students at Ohio State University. It is probably no coincidence that Ohio State recommends but does not require students (outside of those in healthcare settings) be vaccinated in order to attend class. It’s not just Mumps. We are seeing cases of preventable diseases like measles and mumps and whooping cough because of parental decisions not to immunize their children but there is increasing evidence that the immunizations most adults received as infants or young children wear off—leaving the population at large vulnerable to infection once an outbreak occurs. Science Daily just reported a confirmed case of a fully vaccinated young woman contracting measles. The CDC has not yet recommended that adults get booster shots for Mumps and Measles—although they have in some circumstances for Whooping Cough and Polio. But the more likely it is for a person to be exposed to these diseases, the more important it is to be fully vaccinated.
So why is the law to blame here? This piece put out by the Center for American Progress explains how states responding to political pressure from parents have been remarkably lax in enforcing mandatory vaccination laws for school children. The CAP writes that “every state except Mississippi and West Virginia grants some kind of religious exemption, while 17 states allow for “personal belief” or philosophical exemptions.” Unfortunately, many parents have chosen not to vaccinate their child against Mumps because of concerns about the MMR vaccine—that now turn out to be the result of fraudulent scientific data.
As a result, many young adults reading this post may never have been vaccinated. The task now is not to revisit that decision, but to share some specific facts you may not know. What you’ve heard is true– many childhood diseases are much more serious for adults than for children. For a general overview look here. The news is especially bad when it comes to young adults and Mumps—it can impair fertility—even to the extent of causing sterility. There hasn’t been a lot of research done recently and permanent sterility is rare- probably no more than 10%. But why chance it when it can be prevented? We have not yet seen an outbreak of Rubella here in the U.S.—although there was one recently in Japan—this is another disease of special concern to young adults. A case of Rubella early in pregnancy carries with it a 20% chance of serious birth defects. Finally, the risk of permanent hearing loss is highest in children under 5 and adults over 20.
The good news on the public health front is that it’s never too late to be vaccinated. And preventive vaccination (even for childhood diseases) is covered under the Affordable Act. Young adults would be wise to look into their own vaccination status. If pediatric records aren’t available, a blood test can measure antibodies that show the presence (or absence) of vaccination against many serious childhood diseases that are coming back to infect young adults. But if vaccination laws continue to be lax, long after the reason for so many people’s misgivings has turned out to be a fraud, we will not be able to get ahead of what should to everyone be a very frightening trend