Within the American community fighting a major measles epidemic – and a wave of anti-vaccination propaganda

For Shawn Broomfield and his wife, there has never been a question of having their four children vaccinated.

Broomfield, a software engineer, and his wife, a veterinarian, trust the extensive research showing that vaccines are safe.

"We have never seriously considered [not having them vaccinated], Says the 39-year-old, waiting for his bus at a coffee shop in Clark County, Vancouver, in southern Washington State. "We do not think science supports that."

Everyone is not in agreement. While Clark County faces a measles epidemic that has infected at least 54 people, almost all of them young children, the community is confronted with harsh truths that only about 75% of its children are vaccinated against national. average of 92%. Across the state, this figure is 85%.

A combination of anti-vaccine propaganda, a national law allowing parents not to vaccinate their children, and an alleged cultural suspicion of state medicine among elements of its immigrant population have made Clark County a "hot spot" anti-vaccination.

Governor Jay Inslee last month said the epidemic was a public health emergency. "Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children," he said.

Dr. Alan Melnick, county health director, is leading efforts to fight the epidemic.

"There is a lot of diversity in our unvaccinated population," he says. "There is a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda on social media, and some of these things are quite sophisticated. It's a dangerous nonsense.

He argues that the fact that Washington is one of 17 states that allow parents to "philosophically" oppose the vaccination of their children – not just for medical or religious reasons – further aggravates the problem.

The quiet city of Vancouver, located on the other side of the Columbia River, from Portland, Oregon, is only the latest to fight a measles epidemic, which is fatal in every other case. In the United States, the last death related to measles dates back to 2015, but the disease can also result in hearing loss, diarrhea and swelling of the brain. An epidemic among an orthodox Jewish population in New York has made 2018 the second most severe year for measles since 2000. It's always more perilous for children.

State control and disease prevention centers report online: "In 2018, 349 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and in the District of Columbia. This is the second largest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. The largest number was registered with 667 cases in 2014. "

Shawn Broomfield and his wife vaccinated their four children (Andrew Buncombe)

Last November, a school in North Carolina with an anti-vaccine community had its worst chickenpox outbreak in more than two decades.

In some cases, like the one that struck the American-Somali population of Minneapolis in 2017, the experts highlighted the role of the disgraced British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, as a factor in people's decision not to vaccinate their patients. children. Wakefield, who claimed in the 1990s that he had established a possible link with vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and autism, was found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the British Medical Council.

In the years that followed, he moved to America where he continues to promote his anti-vaccine beliefs. In the case of the state of Washington, Robert F Kennedy Jr, environmentalist and nephew of the assassinated president, John F Kennedy, is one of the most prominent anti-vaccine campaigners.

The 65-year-old human rights defender has been striving to prevent the adoption by the states of legislation removing the "philosophical" right of parents from parents and children. To oppose vaccination of children if they wanted to attend a private or public school. (They can still object for religious or medical reasons.)

John Wiesman, Secretary of State for Health, recently told politicians that the proposal was aimed at "safe schools and the protection of vulnerable children".

At least 17 studies have shown no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, but Kennedy continues to argue the opposite. He did not respond to inquiries from L & # 39; Independentbut according to the News TribuneHe told the legislators' meeting: "We do not know the risk profile of the MMR vaccine. There is no safety test for the vaccine. "

Kennedy is a man with powerful relationships. In January 2017, he met with President-elect Donald Trump, who at a first debate had falsely claimed that vaccines could cause autism.

Kennedy said Trump had asked him to lead a commission to investigate their safety. This idea never materialized. However, some members of Trump's entourage continue to make statements about the dangers of vaccines, although government scientists deny them.

Andrew Wakefield describes his relationship with Donald Trump

Earlier this month, Darla Shine, the wife of the White House's director of communications, Bill Shine, said, "Infantile diseases like measles protect you and fight cancer."

She also tweeted: "I had the #Measles #Mumps #ChickenPox like all the kids I knew. Unfortunately, my children had #MMR in order to never have the same natural immunity as ever. Come breathe on me!

Since the state of emergency regarding measles was declared in Washington, residents reacted at different times. The authorities ordered hundreds of children to stay home from school, the parents canceled the play dates and some elderly residents would have worn a mask to visit the supermarket. The number of vaccinations has also increased by 500% compared to the same quarter of last year.

Shawn Brannan of Sea Mar Clinic said he has seen an increase in the number of parents vaccinating their children. He said that a number of people belonged to the Russian and Ukrainian community, 40,000 strong.

He says he learned that some members of the community were wary of state remedies – a restraint of the Soviet era – and that he had seen parents crying while their children were vaccinated. "Some of them have been in tears," he says.

In fact, at least eight of the more than 20 outbreaks in Clark County or Portland were located in Slavic churches or schools. "Many Slavic immigrants have suffered the harshness of the Soviet regime under a totalitarian government," Yuriy Stasyuk, a data analyst with the Washington Health Alliance, told Komo News. "This has sparked a lot of anti-government sentiments and mistrust of academia, science and public health, which have been sponsored by the government."

Last year, US researchers said that Russian trolls and robots working in social media, linked to alleged attempts at meddling in the 2016 presidential election, were broadcasting anti-corruption news. vaccines to "create social discord".

Researchers, who studied the tweets published by the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg, cited in the indictments brought by the special prosecutor Robert Mueller, discovered that he had claimed that there was "a secret database of children damaged by vaccination ".

David Broniatowski, of George Washington University, said, "A significant portion of online vaccine talk can be generated by malicious actors with hidden agendas." It is unclear whether anti-vaccination produced in Russia was read by Clark County.

Peter Tishenko, Chief Pastor of the Church of Christ the Savior, one of the Slavic churches designated as an epidemic site, says that there is no ban on vaccination . A member of the congregation, who asked not to be identified, said that their two children had been vaccinated and that it was wrong that the inhabitants of the city believe that the Russian-speaking community is opposed to them. use. "I know that there is a frenzy in social media," says the church member.

Recently, Hillary Parkin, her 15-month-old son and three-year-old daughter were preparing to avoid the rain as they were leaving a Dollar General store north of Vancouver. It is one of three sites in the chain of reduced prices listed among the epidemic sites.

Parkin, who is Mormon, is not afraid to bring his kids to the store, which they visit once a month. She says, "Both are vaccinated."

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