By now, measles ought to be optional. As long as parents are conscientious and governments are competent, no child has to contract the sometimes fatal disease again. But across Europe and in the U.S., that’s not what’s happening.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than 40,000 cases of measles–including 37 deaths–across Europe in just the first six months of 2018. That’s a huge jump: in all of last year, there were 23,927 cases, and only 5,273 the year before. More than half of those 2018 cases were found in Ukraine, while six other countries (Serbia, France, Italy, Russia, Georgia and Greece) have each topped 1,000 cases. The U.S. numbers are less alarming–107 cases, across 21 states and the District of Columbia–but they too represent an uptick over the past few years, if still a long way from the 667 cases in 2014.
In the U.S., much of the problem can be traced to a fraudulent 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who has since been stripped of his license to practice medicine. After he linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism, the lie was spread in the U.S. by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. Although 20 years of study have established that no such link exists, vaccination rates plummeted in the U.K.–as well as in the U.S. and elsewhere–and have not fully recovered.