The United States is currently in the midst of a record-breaking measles outbreak — and it’s perhaps no wonder, considering that the U.S. lags behind more than 100 other countries who have a higher percentage of their populations protected against measles.
Measles, a highly infectious disease that used to send about 48,000 Americans to the hospital every year, was virtually eradicated with the advent of the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). In fact, the U.S. is the most populous country to have successfully mounted a “sustained interruption of endemic measles” thanks to its vaccination efforts. But now, the disease making a comeback among pockets of people who haven’t gotten their MMR shots.
According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, about 92 percent of Americans were vaccinated for measles as of 2012. As Quartz points out, that doesn’t stack up so well compared to other countries in the world. When it comes to measles vaccination, the U.S. ranks 38th out of the 52 countries defined as “high-income” by the World Bank. And it falls behind several low-income nations — such as Cambodia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Bangladesh — as illustrated on a chart created by Quartz:
This reality isn’t lost on federal health officials, who have repeatedly urged Americans to make sure they’ve gotten their recommended vaccines. Nonetheless, some people continue to resist, partly thanks to persistent conspiracy theories about the MMR shot’s potential link to autism, as well as unsubstantiated myths that it’s not a good idea to give kids multiple vaccines within a short time frame.
It’s difficult to counteract those deeply rooted beliefs about vaccines. Since the people who resist vaccination tend to be distrustful of scientists’ opinions on the subject, some research has found that there’s no amount of scientific fact that can convince them vaccines are safe. Another recent study found that even disease outbreaks, like the current spread of measles, aren’t enough to lead more people to vaccinate their kids.
Americans’ resistance to vaccines isn’t limited to the MMR vaccine, even though that’s the particular shot at the center of the debunked theory about autism. The rates of vaccination for the HPV shot, which helps protect Americans from several different types of cancer, hover just around 30 percent, far below the rates in other countries. For instance, more than 90 percent of teen girls in Rwanda are vaccinated against HPV.