Did an Unvaccinated Tourist Reintroduce Measles to Another Popular Travel Destination?

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No longer content with putting the lives of their own progeny at risk, "anti-vaxxers" have set their sights on knowingly endangering the well-being of people around the world.

It should go without saying that when you travel you should always do your best to be respectful of the people local to your destination. So you would think it’s inherently understood that coming into someone’s home as a guest with a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease doesn’t exactly pass muster with Emily Post. But it appears to be time for a refresher.

Unvaccinated families are traveling at the cost of everyone else’s well-being.

Measles has just been reintroduced to Costa Rica and officials suspect that an unvaccinated five-year-old tourist from France is the culprit. The mother (who is also unvaccinated) consulted a doctor about her child’s rash which turned out to be measles. The boy was subsequently quarantined at a hospital and authorities started working to contact any people that might have come in contact with the boy both in Costa Rica and France.

Costa Rica had been totally measles-free for 5 years and according to the country’s health ministry and the last case of a Costa Rican citizen having measles was 13 years ago in 2006. (For some perspective, here are some other things that happened in 2006: Twitter launched, Hannah Montana debuted on the Disney Channel, and Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face.)

That is until around the time when this anti-vaxxer and her son showed up. The trend of parents in the U.S. and Europe choosing not to vaccinate their children (for reasons having nothing to do with health or religion) can be traced to the work of disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who linked vaccines with autism in a now-discredited paper.

Subsequently, stories about measles breaking out in local communities have been on the rise. Washington state recently had an outbreak during which at least 50 people (most of them children) contracted measles. Japan has also seen a rise in cases, with 170 recorded cases this year (for those of you keeping track, we’re barely two months in). Most of those cases are linked to members of a religious group which believes that medicine is harmful.

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But as the case in Costa Rica shows, along with such stories as the measles outbreak in Disneyland that infected 147, these cases are far from limited to whatever local communities. Unvaccinated families are traveling at the cost of everyone else’s well-being. It’s bad enough to expose one’s local community but to actively maximize the field of damage by going to other places—especially densely populated ones like Disneyland—is even worse.

Vaccines are not only to protect those who receive them, but they’re also meant to protect those who are legitimately too young, too sick, or allergic to components of the vaccine (like gelatin) to be vaccinated from a disease. That’s why there are laws in every state that require children to have certain vaccines before they start school, yet parents are exploiting loopholes that make exemptions for health, religious reasons, or the nebulously defined “personal beliefs.” And, unfortunately, “vague and unfounded fear of autism” has come to be treated as a valid concern and not the conspiracy theory it is. While some states are working to close those loopholes, others (like Arizona) are looking to make it easier for parents to obtain exemptions.