Globe Editorial

Measles: A bracing reminder on vaccines

February 26, 2011

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The measles outbreak at a Back Bay office building this week is a reminder that the disease is still a threat. Fortunately, a simple immunization can prevent its spread. Now that the only study linking autism and childhood vaccination has been thoroughly discredited, parents can rest easy when protecting their children against a potentially fatal disease.

Measles is highly communicable; at least three apparently connected cases have now been reported in Boston. Banishing it and other once-rampant diseases took not just scientific research, but also public cooperation and even special legal arrangements. Coincidentally, the US Supreme Court wisely upheld those arrangements this week, when it ruled that a special tribunal established by Congress in 1986 is the only legal arena available to parents who believe a vaccine had harmed their child. Congress created the tribunal to protect against outsized damage claims in state courts, which would discourage firms from developing vaccines, which are usually a low-margin product.

Now that measles is rare in the United States, it’s easy to let inertia — or unfounded fears — get in the way of vaccination. The Back Bay outbreak shows why vaccination remains a necessary defense against measles.