From 1988 to 1990, California was slammed with a measles epidemic that affected at least 16,000 people, per the Western Journal of Medicine. Now public health officials are trying to avoid a similar scenario, encouraging people in the Golden State to a) get vaccinated, and b) stay away from Disney parks where the current outbreak started if they're not. Although a Disneyland spokeswoman tells the AP "it's absolutely safe to visit if you're vaccinated," a state epidemiologist warns that those who haven't received the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot should keep away for "the time being." Seventy people—the "vast majority" of them unvaccinated, notes the AP—have reportedly been infected so far in the outbreak. Measles has officially been eradicated since 2000 in the US; California officials speculate the current outbreak was caused by a foreign visitor or a resident who traveled overseas.
The vaccination debate has been renewed, with many health officials lambasting those who refuse to get their shots due to fears about risks. "[These cases] wouldn't have happened otherwise. … There are some pretty dumb people out there," an infectious disease specialist tells the New York Times, while a deputy director at the California Center for Infectious Diseases urges "unvaccinated Californians to consider getting vaccinated against measles." Even Bill Gates, who has lobbied for vaccinations around the globe, tells Wired, "It will take cases like this Disneyland thing to remind people how irresponsible [not being vaccinated] is." The head of the National Vaccine Information Center, however, says it's all overblown. "Fifty-seven cases of measles coming out of Disneyland in a country with a population of 317 million people is not a lot ... . We should all take a deep breath," she says. (Read more measles stories.)