The ongoing outbreaks of measles in the United States will likely prompt the World Health Organization to revoke the country’s measles elimination status in October. That means that in just under two decades after having eliminated the endemic disease within our borders, the tireless work of measles conservationists has paid off: Anti-vaxxers have saved American measles. I hope they feel incredibly proud of themselves. After all, in an era when the planet is losing organisms at a rapid clip, it’s refreshing to see so many who are so fanatically dedicated, with measles parties and more, to preserving a deadly and unloved pathogen.
The work of measles conservationists in the United States certainly hasn’t been easy. Pro-measles activists have had to fight a dedicated medical community who’ve worked very hard to make sure measles could not spread and kill with impunity. But, luckily, the pro-measles crowd has had some star-power on their side. Prominent anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy, Rob “Deuce Bigalow” Schneider, and Robert De Niro have all used their celebrity influence to spread the word about measles conservationism, mainly by sowing fear and doubt about the main threat to measles: safe and effective vaccines. Leo DeCaprio’s effort to fight global warming has got nothing on the celebrity power leveraged in the campaign to make measles infectious again.
Not all of the credit should go to the stars, of course. You can’t talk about saving measles without mentioning the work of activists like Del Bigtree, “Dr. Bob” Sears, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who have all helped reverse the demise of the disease. Thanks to these brave fighters in the measles conservation community, measles is now able, once again, to wreak havoc in the unprotected bodies of hundreds upon hundreds of unvaccinated children. If it weren’t for their fine effort, measles would never have had such a good chance of spreading painful rashes and high fevers, and the potential to cause pneumonia, encephalitis, and death.
What’s so incredible about the effort to conserve American measles is that the virus that causes the disease has never had a good reputation. In fact, it still kills 100,000 children a year worldwide. Just this year in the Philippines, the virus managed to kill 338 people. For comparison, the Amazonian blue parrot never killed anyone and was even the star of a charming children’s film, and yet it still went extinct in the wild in 2018. Just imagine the heroic effort it has taken then to preserve a microscopic organism that is famous largely for putting children in graves. Child serial killer Albert Fish would have loved to have had such fantastic grassroots image management.
The measles conservation success story is truly breathtaking and inspiring. It shows that with the clever use of pseudo-science, misinformation, and global social platforms that allow conspiracy theories to spread like wildfire, virtually anything is possible. Manatees may soon be just a memory, but because of the efforts of angry anti-vax moms holding homemade signs outside of state legislatures, we will always have measles.
Our children may grow up in a world where northern white rhinos may not exist. Our kids might only read about a time when the Amazon rain patch was a full, vast, oxygen-producing forest. But thanks to the great effort of measles-conserving anti-vaxxers, there’s a good chance that our kids might not live at all.