Health officials have long feared that vaccine skepticism will push down immunization rates and threaten herd immunity. Lack of trust in vaccines was blamed, in part, for the resurgence of polio in Nigeria. Now it seems to be causing problems in the West too.
Health officials in Wales are bemoaning the slow uptake of vaccines as a measles outbreak threatens to sweep across the country. Cases have, so far, been restricted largely to the city of Swansea. But with the Easter break coming up, healthcare authorities worry it will spread as kids travel to other parts of the United Kingdom to see family. The number of cases in Swansea has more than doubled to 432 in the past three weeks, resulting in 51 hospitalizations.
By the end of April, health officials fear the number of cases will top 1,000. The last comparable outbreak came in Dublin, Ireland, in 1999, when there were 1,200 cases and three deaths. In an attempt to stop the Swansea outbreak reaching those levels, health officials have been vocal in local and national media. Despite the communication blitz, vaccination rates have disappointed. Just 100 of the 3,800 susceptible kids ages 2 and over in the Swansea area had the vaccine last week.
The reason so few are getting vaccinated is unclear, but health concerns are likely to play a role. Vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) tumbled in the early 2000s in the wake of the autism scare. In fiscal 2011, 87% of children in Wales had received both doses of MMR by the time they turned 5 years old. United Kingdom health officials think a 95% vaccination rate is needed to stop the spread of measles. Some parents now regret the decision not to vaccinate. "We feel so guilty, we took the decision for her not to have it. We just wish she had had the injection," Craig Thomas, whose daughter has measles, told the South Wales Evening Post.
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