Why Rich Kids Get Measles More Often in the U.S.

Most of the time, having more wealth and education translates into better health care outcomes.  One exception has been with some vaccine-preventable illnesses like the measles, according to a recent article in USA Today which reported on the CDC’s efforts to counter anti-vaccination misinformation.

Here’s an excerpt:

Vaccines given to infants and young children over the past two decades will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccines also will have saved $295 billion in direct costs, such as medical expenses, and a total of more than $1.3 trillion in societal costs over that time, because children who were spared from sometimes-devastating illnesses will be able to contribute to society, the report shows. These calculations may underestimate the full impact of vaccines, the study notes, because authors considered only the early 14 routine childhood immunizations typically required for school entry. Authors didn’t include flu shots or adolescent vaccines given at ages 11 or 12…

Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, the virus infected about 500,000 Americans a year, causing 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations. In recent years, the number of diagnoses fell to around 60 to 65, mostly in isolated travelers arriving in the USA.

Doubts about vaccines safety – and fading memories of vaccine-preventable diseases — have contributed to a resurgence of nearly forgotten diseases such as measles, which was officially declared eradicated in the USA in 2000. Numerous studies have debunked the notion that vaccines cause autism or other chronic diseases, says William Schaffner , an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville….

Congress created the entitlement program in 1994, responding to a measles outbreak in 1989 to 1991 that sickened 55,000 people and killed more than 100. At the time, measles outbreaks were fueled by viruses circulating among low-income, inner-city residents.

The picture has completely changed today, Schaffner says. The federal program has eliminated racial and ethnic disparities among vaccines. Today, the bulk of the unvaccinated children come from wealthy, educated families where parents intentionally choose not to immunize them, due to concerns about vaccine safety. These relatively wealthy children can then spread measles after returning from vacations in Europe, which has had large outbreaks for several years, Schaffner says.

“Borders can’t stop measles, but vaccination can,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden.