By Stephanie Wasserman, MSPH
Executive Director, Immunize Colorado
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused over 2.6 million cases around the world and is growing each day, has shown us—in the most alarming way—the indisputable value of vaccines. And though we are at least a year away from having an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we do need to remember that we already have many available vaccines that are safe and highly effective against dozens of dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases that once ran rampant across the globe. Most of us have never seen the ravages of polio or measles, but these diseases can come roaring back if we do not stay vigilant about maintaining high vaccination rates.
The COVID-19 virus has quickly spread across the globe, causing half a million cases and nearly 40,000 deaths. In the U.S., we’ve seen over 160,000 reported cases as of March 30, and the actual number is likely much higher. Disease is spreading rapidly, and health systems are struggling to keep pace. Across the country, non-essential businesses are being required to shut their doors, schools are closing—some for the remainder of the school year—, and state governors are issuing Stay-At-Home orders requiring that people not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.
We are living in a new and uncertain reality. But to many, the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is familiar. This is not the first time our society has experienced a pandemic like COVID-19; it is not the first time that people have been afraid to leave their homes, or that healthcare workers have struggled to keep pace with the number of cases.
With an increasing number of people traveling the globe, our world keeps getting smaller and smaller. This is especially true during the holiday season, when an expected seven million Americans will take to the air in the last weeks of the year to celebrate with family and friends. While this makes spending time with far-flung family members much easier, it also increases opportunities for dangerous pathogens to more easily circulate and spread across greater geographic distances.
Measles outbreaks are popping up across the United States. From January 1 to March 7, 2019, 228** individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 12 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Six outbreaks (defined as 3 or more linked cases) have been reported, in Rockland County, New York; New York City, New York; Washington; Texas; California and Illinois.