Is the Anti-Vaccination Movement to Blame for Disneyland’s Measles Outbreak?

The disease was declared 'eliminated' from the U.S. in 2000, but the recent resurgence suggests an alarming trend.

Minnie Mouse and a friend at the Disneyland Resort in Paris. (Photo: Julius Matthias/Getty Images)

Jan 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

The so-called happiest place on Earth is the source of a continuous outbreak of a rare but potentially serious disease.

A measles outbreak began at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, when an infected person visited the park in December. It has now infected at least 20 people in three different states, with two new cases reported in Orange County on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times. As the airborne disease spreads, so too does the debate about the need for vaccinations in America.

While the virus with flu-like symptoms is still common in many parts of the world, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, owing to a highly effective vaccination program. But the formerly eradicated disease is now increasingly on the rise in the U.S., with a record number of more than 610 cases reported last year. That number is nearly triple the previous high in 2011, and the majority of those cases involve unvaccinated patients.

According to the Orange County Health Care Agency, half of the original six cases of Disneyland measles were contracted by unvaccinated children who were all old enough (at least four years old) to be vaccinated in two full doses. Of the three adults who initially contracted the disease, only one was fully vaccinated.

Those numbers are indicative of a larger trend in which many parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids. While she’s since backpedaled on her anti-vaccine stance, Jenny McCarthy became the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement years ago when she pointed to autism as a side effect of vaccines, a claim that is not supported by scientific evidence.
“I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe,” McCarthy said in a 2009 Time magazine interview. Her statement has proven eerily prophetic with the rise of measles, despite vaccines that have proven safe and effective—in eliminating measles in 2000, for example—time and again.

In recent years, measles have resurfaced around the country predominantly in communities that refuse to vaccinate. A 2013 outbreak in Texas was linked to a Christian megachurch whose televangelist minister had condemned the use of vaccines, comparing them with injecting a child with a sexually transmitted disease.

In 2014, parents who refused to vaccinate their kids were blamed for an outbreak of potentially fatal whooping cough in unlikely places: the wealthy, elite neighborhoods of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, California, where up to 70 percent of parents filed “personal belief exemptions” from vaccinations with their children’s schools, according to the The Hollywood Reporter. As a result, their vaccination rate was as low as that of Chad or South Sudan, The Atlantic concluded.
The latest measles outbreak isn’t just a PR nightmare for Disneyland. It’s also a larger side effect of the anti-vaccination movement in America. And despite McCarthy’s accusations, vaccines may be the only way to restore faith in the happiest place on Earth—and many other places in the United States.