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EDITORIAL: Measles, anti-vaccine myths and some advice for Illinois

Measles is still common in many parts of the world including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. | AP Photo

Science has proven, once again, that the measles vaccine does not cause autism.

Conspiracy theories die hard, and this wrongheaded theory is especially hard to kill. It’s got more lives than a cat, thriving on social media despite repeated debunkings of the flawed research behind it.

The myth is fueling a national uptick in measles cases that sparked hearings this week in the U.S. Senate. In Illinois, there’s a good argument to be made that anti-vaccine sentiment is putting more kids at risk for a disease that is potentially serious — and entirely preventable.

The anti-vaccine myth brought a teen from Ohio before a Senate committee on Tuesday. Ethan Lindenberger told lawmakers that his mother opposed vaccines. Doing his own research, he found study after study refuting his mother’s beliefs — and he opted to get vaccinated when he turned 18.

Meanwhile, there was Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., this week, irresponsibly putting notions of “personal liberty” above public health. He railed to the Senate committee against vaccination requirements, though he admitted that vaccines are “a good thing.”

A Danish study is the latest evidence of vaccine safety. Researchers followed more than 650,000 children for 10 years and concluded that “the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine does not increase the risk of autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.”

Just how threatening is anti-vaccine sentiment? So far this year, 206 measles cases have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Compare that number with 372 cases in 2018, and just 120 in 2017.

In Illinois, five cases have been reported, according to the state Department of Public Health. The latest came last week, when an infected person went through Midway Airport and showed up at a hospital in Geneva for medical treatment. Those five cases equal the total for 2018. In 2017, there was none.

Red flags, indeed. More so, religious exemptions from childhood vaccine requirements are increasing at an alarming pace, despite a 2015 law that was supposed to make it harder to get those exemptions. Families now have to complete a certificate explaining their objection on religious grounds, and must get the signature of a doctor attesting that the parent had been counseled about the risk of skipping the vaccine.

In 2018, 17,694 religious exemptions were granted, a significant jump up from 15,652 in 2016, state Board of Education data show.

More religious exemptions mean more unvaccinated children — and that puts every child in greater danger. Lawmakers can prevent that by following the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend eliminating all non-medical vaccine exemptions.

California in 2016 eliminated its “personal belief” exemption after a measles outbreak in Disneyland. A state appeals court upheld the law, which was challenged, in part, on the basis of freedom of religion.

The appeals court was right. We can get kids vaccinated, or we can be in danger together.

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