Public health officials in the United States are speaking out against a new practice of intentionally exposing unvaccinated children to measles.
Anti-vaccination advocates have been encouraging parents to bring their unvaccinated kids together to “measles parties” in an attempt to expose them to the virus as an alternative to receiving the MMR vaccine.
During a press conference on April 9, New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Herminia Palacio, made a plea for parents to avoid attending these exposure parties at all costs.
“As a parent, I have no doubt that each and every parent is making decisions based out of what they believe is best for their children,” Palacio said. “But as a doctor, a public health practitioner and a mom, I must warn you that exposing your unvaccinated child to measles is very dangerous; and it could even be deadly.”
Earlier this month, a measles outbreak prompted an emergency order of mandatory vaccinations for a New York City neighbourhood and Rockland County area. A failure to receive the vaccine would result in a $1,000 fine.
The County also issued a 30 day public ban on all unvaccinated children from enclosed public spaces such as shopping malls, schools and places of worship.
The resurgence of the measles virus, which was once eradicated in both the United States and Canada, has been declared a “crisis” by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
So far this year, there have been 33 confirmed cases of measles in Canada and 465 in the United States.
In an interview with CTV News, public health educator Rachel Alter said parents may have gathered the idea from “chicken pox parties,” which used to occur before there was an effective vaccine.
“The vaccines are so effective that we really look down upon (the parties),” Alter said. “In some jurisdictions, they may be considered child abuse.”
“For measles, which is an extremely contagious disease with a very, very effective vaccine, there is no reason to be going to these parties.”
Alter also said contracting measles during childhood increases the chances of developing disability later in life.
“The most dangerous part is called SSPE, which is short for subacute sclerosing panencephalitis,” she said, adding that the neurodegenerative disease typically manifests 10 years after the measles.
“It is fatal. It is painful. It is completely avoided if you get the vaccine,” Alter said.