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Epidemics: everyone’s business

Seemingly hour by hour, news regarding Ebola stricken countries gets worse. There is no doubt that the international community is losing the fight to contain and eliminate ebola. And not by a small margin; across the board, data points to a conclusive failure. To date, 3,000 people have died, and now World Health Organization members say that there are local transmissions into Nigeria and Senegal.

But that’s the tip of the Iceberg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at current rates there will be 1.4 million cases between Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. Additionally, the CDC calculated that case numbers double every 15 days in LIberia and 30 days in Sierra Leone as well as finding that 82 percent of suspected persons infected are not in hospitals or isolated settings. Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that fighting the epidemic requires 20 times the amount of doctors and health personnel that are already on the ground.

This should scare you. In a more globalized world than ever before, epidemics are everyone’s business. If ebola was to go airborne or if someone brought the infection overseas things could get very, very bad. This is why the United States needs to put its back into helping eliminate Ebola.  And more importantly, Americans need to ask whether or not this could have happened to us. Do you think it’s possible? Thankfully the U.S. has a more robust health infrastructure, but epidemics in the U.S.are getting more and more likely.

Why is this? Enter Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy Jr., and ilk with the anti-vaccination campaign. Non-vaccination has doubled between 1991 and 2004, in response to some research (which was later retracted and discredited for fraudulence) that linked vaccines to autism. The research created anxiety for parents and led many to hold off on vaccines or even not vaccinate their children at all. With recent court cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it is only foreseeable that non-vaccination will increase.

So why does this matter? Consider these cases. In New York City between 2009 and 2010 mumps resurfaced infecting more than 3,500 kids. California in 2010 and Washington in 2012 suffered thousands of whooping cough cases which killed some but were also landmarks in recent history as both of these illnesses were almost eradicated via vaccines decades ago. 8,000 cases of whooping cough have been reported this year. Coupled with a living population of about 500,000 Americans that cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons as well as the non-vaccination population, the (small but still relevant) fail rate of vaccinations, and any other facet affecting American herd immunity – like rapid transportation and, therefore, rapid spread of infection – this is a perturbing trend.

So again, could what’s happening in West Africa happen here? Of course it could. And the only way to prevent epidemics and illnesses from resurfacing is for the United States to take science seriously. Get vaccinated because that protects not only you, but all of us as well.

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