If you are going to attend a religious gathering with around 20,000 people, don’t bring the measles virus with you. Just don’t.
If you do bring such an unwanted guest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may have to spend taxpayer money to issue a Health Alert Network (HAN) Health Advisory, like they did on March 3. That Advisory came as a result of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) confirming on February 24, 2023, that an individual who had never been vaccinated against the measles vaccine ended up getting, surprise, surprise, the measles. While infectious, that individual had attended a religious gathering at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, from February 17 to 18, 2023, that had around 20,000 people. That’s about 20,000 more people than you should be around when you are infected with the measles virus. So once again, since the measles virus has made a comeback to the U.S. due to declining measles vaccination rates, public health officials have to spend lots o’ taxpayer money trying to clean up this resulting mess.
The steps that public health officials have had or will now have to take include:
- Figuring out who attended this gathering. This would be reasonably straightforward if this were like a Glow-in-the-Dark Sleepover Party with just a dozen people or so. But a gathering with thousands of people is quite different. It can be difficult to figure out everyone who attended as well as who provided support for the meeting. Plus, attendees came from different U.S. states and countries.
- Determining who may have been exposed to this individual. This isn’t easy either as it’s not just the people who had direct physical contact with the infected individual. That person could have coughed, sneezed, or breathed out the virus, assuming that the individual was breathing at some point during the religious gathering. So anyone who was in the vicinity of the person could have been exposed. Plus, the measles virus can hang in the air or remain on surfaces for up to two hours after the infected individual has left the area.
- Determining which of the potentially exposed folks never got the full two-dose series of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. If you’ve gotten the full MMR series, you are likely around 97% protected from the measles. This ain’t perfect but pretty darn good. If you haven’t completed the series because you are a little baby or have refused to get the vaccine and have never have gotten the measles, then you are highly susceptible to the virus. The virus is very transmissible.
- Making sure these unvaccinated or under-vaccinated folks stay quarantined for 21 days after their initial exposure to the individual. Typically it takes about 10 days for you to develop a fever after being exposed to the virus, although this can range from seven to 12 days. It usually takes about 14 days to develop a rash. But this can vary as well from seven to 21 days. That’s why you have to remain quarantined for 21 days to make sure that you don’t end up developing a rash. If infected, you can remain contagious four days after your rash disappears.
- Offering these folks the MMR vaccine within 72 hours or immunoglobulin (IG) within six days of being exposed to the measles virus. The MMR vaccine would be preferable since it can go on to offer protection much longer.
- Monitoring everyone to see what symptoms they may develop. Typical early symptoms are fevers, a cough, a runny nose, and conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye. Three-to-five days of such symptoms first emerge, a rash erupts on the body. The concern is that measles can progress to even more severe problems such as pneumonia, encephalitis, and death. And everyone would probably agree that death can be pretty severe.
Again, all of this will take time, effort, and resource that will be supported by, guess who, you as a taxpayer. That’s assuming that you pay taxes. Measles was considered eliminated from the U.S. back in 2000 due to high measles vaccination rates. But since anti-vaccination activists began blaming the measles vaccine for autism and other things without sufficient evidence, measles vaccination rates have been dropping. And that’s been a lifeline for the measles virus, allowing it to more readily spread and create outbreaks in different parts of the world. For example, data from the CDC shows that the number of measles outbreaks in the U.S. jumped from 49 in 2021 to 121 in 2022 with all of the people affected being children who weren’t yet fully vaccinated.
This Asbury University situation is yet another reminder that vaccination is not simply a “personal decision.” It’s more like the decision to wear clothes while in public, to not pee in the swimming pool, or to not drive drunk. Your decision on whether to get vaccinated will end affecting other people, potentially 20,000 others.