[4/22/19] – Measles Outbreak

In the year 2000 the disease Measles was eradicated from the United States. Recently, cases of the disease have resurfaced. In 2019, we are currently on track to have the most cases of Measles since the mid-1990’s. In New York, the outbreak of Measles is relatively isolated to a specific group of people…ultra-orthodox Jews living in Brooklyn. Currently there are over 500 cases reported, and this number is expected to grow. Public health experts are working to control the spread of the disease. Mandatory vaccinations are being ordered. Public space access is limited to those who are sick. Plaintiffs are emerging bringing charges against anti-vaccination supporters, and vice versa. One thing is for sure, the foundation of this outbreak is social in nature.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Measles Outbreak

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain the sick role as it applies to communicable diseases such as Measles.

LO2: Apply multiple sociological theories to understand and explain the Measles outbreak.

LO3: Discuss how agents of socialization contribute to the dissemination of fear and panic and information related to disease in American society.






  1. Using Parson’s sick role as a model, when a person gets sick, what accommodations are offered? Does this vary by race and gender? What responsibilities are reasonable for them to be freed from? To what extent should they be expected to return to wellness? How might social inequality in America influence the degree to which sick people are able to pursue and utilize healthcare?
  2. Using a Rational-Choice (Exchange) approach, what might be the benefits and consequences that people weigh when deciding to get themselves or their dependents vaccinated? What sort of sanctions are reasonable to apply to individuals who opt to not vaccinate? Should this even be a decision that people have the opportunity to make, or should it be mandated by the government? Explain.
  3. What is the role of the media in the social construction of an epidemic? Why might news outlets use language and images to evoke fear and suspicion among Americans related to contracting a potentially fatal disease? How might other agents of socialization contribute to the social construction of an epidemic? How does knowing this epidemic could be prevented factor into societal response?
  4. Using a Structural-Functional approach, what is the appropriate response of government and healthcare authorities to address this epidemic? What measures are necessary to the stability of society? What would happen if the epidemic reached a point where anomie began to settle in? What does the pathway to restoring social order look like in the wake of an epidemic? How do we avoid panic?
  5. What is the role of a parent in the protection of their children from communicable disease? At what point might it be considered criminal if a child is harmed, or even killed, as a result of the inaction on vaccinations of a parent? Who has the power to control the label of deviant as it applies to parents who opt not to vaccinate their children?

Current Events Quiz

Which of the following factors contributes to the social construction of illness in the United States?

  1. Internet access for lay people to medical information informing them of disease patterns and symptoms.
  2. Media reports on trends related to health, healing, and illness in the United States.
  3. Informal cultural dissemination of experiences with medical professionals among peers and family.
  4. All of the above

A sociologist using a _______ approach to investigate the spread of measles might focus on how people with the disease are labeled deviant and often stigmatized by society.

  1. Functionalist
  2. Symbolic-Interactionist
  3. Conflict
  4. Rational-Choice

A _______ theorist would be most interested in researching how patterns of social control emerge from social structures in an effort to maintain social order during epidemics and/or outbreaks of disease?

  1. Functionalist
  2. Symbolic-Interactionist
  3. Conflict
  4. Rational-Choice


Photo by South_agency.

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