On Disneyland, measles, and the madness of the anti-vaccine movement

JHSPH vaccine expert featured in 'New York Times' Sunday column

In his Sunday column, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni takes aim at the anti-vaccine movement, which has been linked to a recent measles outbreak in California and which, Bruni writes, reflects "a chilling disregard for science."

On the side of science, he consults Daniel Salmon, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and deputy director of the school's Institute for Vaccine Safety.

More than 100 measles cases have been reported in 14 states and Mexico and are thought to be connected to an outbreak that originated in mid-December at southern California's Disneyland amusement park. Bruni lays blame for both the current outbreak and the resurgence of the virus at the feet of parents who opt to forgo vaccinations based on personal beliefs and/or the "discredited theory that there's a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism."

In 2004, there were just 37 reported cases of measles in the United States. In 2014, there were 644. And while none of those patients died, measles can kill. Before vaccines for it became widespread in 1963, millions of Americans were infected annually, and 400 to 500 died each year.

"I don't think its fatality rate has decreased," said Daniel Salmon, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We just haven't had enough cases for someone to die."

Bruni suggests that there is a "robust market for pure conjecture," a problem amplified by the Internet, which makes it easy to spread untrustworthy information disguised as "fact." "You can be so privileged that you're underprivileged, so blessed with choices that you choose to be a fool, so 'informed' that you're misinformed," he writes. Salmon echoes that concern:

Salmon noted that the sheer variety and saturation of media today amplify crackpot hypotheses to a point where they seem misleadingly worthy of consideration. "People say things enough times, there must be some truth to it," he said. "Look at the proportion of people who question where our president was born or his religion."

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