Thirty years ago, if you contracted measles or mumps in America, chances are you were born in a poor inner-city community. These days, you’re more likely to get sick if you come from a middle-class area.
The reason? Stupidity.
These maps here show outbreaks of measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and rubella–all diseases easily preventable with vaccines. There are a bunch of big blobs in the United States and Europe–where vaccines are plentiful–because people refuse to take them. They’re part of a movement of crusaders who, in the name of doing well by their children, end up harming kids and their friends.
“The refusal rates in the U.S. and Europe are highest among highly educated, wealthy parents, many of whom started to refuse vaccination 20 years ago,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which maintains the maps.
“The children that were never fully vaccinated are now of college age, and many of the outbreaks are focused around college campuses, where the unvaccinated carriers of pertussis, measles, and mumps are housed in dorms with the rest of the population, and spread the diseases.”
So, while government vaccination programs have prevented outbreaks in, say, the eastside of Los Angeles, activist parents have turned back the clock in Mill Valley, California, and Vashon Island, near Seattle.
The CFR has been tracking outbreaks since 2008, and updates the maps weekly, Garrett says. Measles is in red, mumps is dark green, rubella is blue, polio is orange, and whooping cough is green. The yellow blobs are other diseases, like cholera and chicken pox.
Outside the developed world, outbreaks are more likely because of a lack of vaccines. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa struggle with affordability and the necessary cold-chain storage. War is another cause. The maps show recent outbreaks of polio in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for instance.
In the U.S., the reemergence of measles, mumps, and pertussis is compounded by a lack of experience among doctors in dealing with the diseases. “Young physicians have trouble properly diagnosing these diseases because they had become so rare in wealthy countries until recently, so often there is a delay in spotting the first child or college kid,” says Garrett. “By the time local public health officials are notified, there is often spread, so an outbreak is already underway.”