COLUMBUS, Ohio — While Ohio’s measles outbreak climbs to 56, with 20 hospitalizations of unvaccinated children and babies, state lawmakers continue to hear legislation that would ban all vaccine requirements.
What is measles?
Measles is a dangerous yet preventable disease that was eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the World Health Organization. This declaration and the fight against this respiratory illness was a huge win for modern science.
Most cases in the United States are imported and isolated, according to University Hospitals.
Dr. Amy Edwards, who is the associate medical director for UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital's Pediatric Infection Control, explained there are a few main concerns with this disease.
It's one of the most infectious viruses and this can be found with its R-naught (R0) value. R0 is the basic reproduction number, which is the expected number of cases that directly come from the host's infection.
The flu has an R0 of 1. COVID-19 omicron variant is about 8-10. Measles is 12-18, according to Edwards.
The mortality rate is about 1 in 1,000, which may not seem like a lot, but that chance most parents shouldn't be willing to take, the physician added.
"It should be zero because we have a vaccine that is about 98% protective," Edwards said. "Why would you play Russian roulette with your child's health?"
Other than death, measles is an incredibly damaging virus. Kids who get measles could get permanent brain damage and it could cause a loss of immunological memory. Immune memory is the ability of the body to remember and know how to fight illnesses it has encountered before.
"Measles takes that memory bank — that library — and trashes it," she said. "So things that you used to be immune to, things that you'd already suffered through, or vaccinations that you previously had, a lot of that can be taken away."
Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence, including the latest outbreak in Columbus, Ohio.
The measles cases in Ohio are in Columbus and Franklin, Ross and Richland counties. Of the 56, 54 are unvaccinated children and two are partially vaccinated, meaning the patients only had one dose of the MMR vaccine.
Twelve of the cases are in children younger than one year old; 26 are between 1-2; 13 are from 3-5 and the remaining 5 range from 6-17 years old. This means 46% of the cases are 1-2 years old.
Typically, a child gets the vaccine between 12 and 15 months, this means some of these cases could be from babies who are unvaccinated due to age or parental choice.
"As this outbreak continues to grow, we are encouraging all parents to make sure that their child’s immunizations are up-to-date," Columbus Public Health told News 5. "If your baby is 12 months of age or older and hasn’t received a first dose of MMR yet, please get them vaccinated as soon as possible."
Edwards said the outbreak in Ohio is happening because people aren't getting vaccinated.
"Every time you add more children to the unvaccinated, that increases the susceptible population," she said.
Among all of the other problems measles causes, it also hurts all of the children who aren’t old enough to get the vaccine or who are immunocompromised, Edwards added.
A local mother's viewpoint
A mom from Streetsboro, although she isn't a medical professional, said she doesn't buy this.
"A child that is not vaccinated and is healthy and their immune system is intact and working fine is... is of no danger to anyone else," Amy Martinez said.
Martinez isn’t responsible for anyone else’s kids, just her own, all of which are unvaccinated for all diseases, she said. She doesn’t want to lose her freedom to choose just because some parents may feel anxious.
"Every child is entitled to an education, regardless of their vaccination status," she said.
Martinez doesn't believe there is an actual outbreak in Columbus right now because people have been "spreading propaganda" against the "medical freedom" movement.
"Just in the light of everything that I've learned, there's a lot of propaganda that we're being subjected to fear people into trying to get things and coercing people right now," Martinez said. "I'm just a little leery and a little hesitant about believing anything."
The mother is just one person in the growing anti-vaccine crusade across the state, and she shares a common sentiment with that crowd.
"If you can't protect what you put into your own body and that of your children, you have no freedom," Martinez said.
Martinez believes there are zero benefits to vaccines. Everyone's body functions perfectly without them, she alleged without evidence.
"We're all born with an amazing immune system," she said. "We weren't born with an immune system that doesn't work without chemicals."
When asked about kids who are born without certain chromosomes or without organs that could make them immunocompromised, she said she "feels for those people."
"But again, somebody who is not sick, they have no symptoms of anything is not putting anybody else in danger," she said, reiterating the baseless claim that asymptomatic people can't spread disease.
Doctors push back on conspiracy theories
Herd immunity is meant to help the most vulnerable, not those who just don't want to get vaccinated. There are rare medical conditions and legitimate religious exemptions, such as in the Amish community, Edwards said.
"If you just start letting 'Joe Blow' down the street, who has no need for an exemption and is brainwashed by conspiracy theories on the internet, not vaccinate their child and then send that child to public schools, then herd immunity is no longer going to exist and these diseases will start to cross through our schools," Edwards said.
The doctor doesn't put all the blame on the parents, instead explaining how the internet can be scary and that she does genuinely believe that the parents think they are doing what is right for their children. Healthcare professionals across the country have consistently been speaking out to try to combat internet hoaxes.
However, Edwards said that those who believe in science should not be subjected to dying due to other families believing in conspiracy theories.
"Their child is alive because of us, we are keeping that child alive," Edwards said. "And yet they mock us for getting vaccinated, even though we're the reason that their child can walk around without a vaccine."
Who she does blame, however, are trolls, snake oil salesmen, "fringe quack doctors" and Ohio legislators.
This trend isn’t just gaining force online, but it’s getting publicized by lawmakers at the Statehouse.
Numerous bills and a ballot initiative are being heard to promote “medical freedom."
Activists are now trying to get signatures to put an amendment on the ballot saying it would be against Ohio law to have any vaccine requirement in schools, hospitals or any other public or private entity.
This comes as a Cleveland doctor who falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine makes people magnetic and may be connected to 5G towers is currently under investigation by the state medical board.
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an Olmsted Falls osteopathic physician gave an egregiously erroneous testimony for House Bill 248, which was heard in the summer of 2021.
There are at least three additional other bills surrounding COVID, such as one investigated by News 5 in November, that would stop already non-existent vaccine mandates.
"We have to go back to basic education and we have to continue to enforce public health measures that say that if you're not vaccinated, you cannot congregate, you cannot come into our schools," Edwards said. "Why? Because if you are unvaccinated, carry measles into your middle school, you will kill people. And we don't like killing people, so you're not allowed to do that — and that is a logical and reasonable law."
Edwards has watched children die from vaccine-preventable illnesses, both in her work abroad and in Ohio.
When she worked in parts of Africa and South America, people waited for days and walked for miles to get the measles vaccine.
"When somebody in a resource-rich country dies of a vaccine-preventable illness, it just makes me angry," she said. "People all over the world would prefer to have access to them and can't get it."