Measles outbreaks occur in some pockets of the United States. That’s why doctors are worried

Measles outbreaks occur in some pockets of the United States.  That’s why doctors are worried

Despite a highly effective and easily accessible vaccine, measles outbreaks have continued to occur in the United States over the past two decades.

In 2023, there were 41 confirmed cases of measles, according to incomplete data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While the number of measles cases in the past few years has not reached record levels and 2023’s numbers are lower than recent years, the fact that outbreaks are continuing is a trend that concerns health officials and experts.

Measles was declared eliminated in 2000, meaning the disease “is no longer continuously present in this country.” However, a decline in routine childhood vaccinations in recent years as well as travelers bringing measles into the country has led to outbreaks.

“The fact that we’re seeing sporadic cases of measles, to me, suggests that we likely have pockets in the United States where we’re not doing a good job of vaccinating, and I’m concerned that this trend is getting worse over time.” Dr. Peter Hotez, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.

Vaccination rates lag

A CDC report in November found that exemptions from routine childhood vaccination among U.S. kindergartners are at an all-time high.

This is about the same as the previous school year but lower than the 94% seen in the 2020-21 school year and the 95% seen in the 2019-20 school year, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter ratio has been the norm for about 10 years.

Hotez said there may be areas in the United States where vaccination exemption rates, for medical and non-medical reasons, are higher.

“For example, when we studied this in 2018, looking at states that allow vaccine exemptions for non-medical reasons, we would find counties where maybe 10 to 20% of children were not getting their childhood vaccinations and that’s what measles is exploiting,” Hotz said. “So, if it’s a uniform 93%, that’s not ideal, but it probably won’t be enough to trigger a measles outbreak.”

About one in five people in the United States who gets measles will be hospitalized. Measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5, including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and even death, according to the CDC.

The first measles vaccine, a single-dose vaccine, was introduced in the United States in 1963. In the previous decade, there were three to four million cases annually, resulting in 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.

The CDC recommends that people get two doses, the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. One dose is 93% effective and two doses are 97% effective.

Since then, the number of hospitalizations and deaths has decreased significantly. There were three deaths in the Americas in 2000 and only one in 2022, according to a November 2023 CDC report.

“We can prevent this, we can stop it. Parents should be afraid of measles,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told ABC News. “They should be as afraid of this virus as my parents. The difference is that (my parents) couldn’t do anything about it.”

“Now you can do something about it, which makes it even more unconscionable when you see kids coming into the hospital who could have gotten vaccinated and didn’t,” he added.

Rise in misinformation about vaccines

There are several reasons for the low vaccination rates, according to experts. One is a 1998 paper published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield claiming that MMR injections caused autism. This paper has since been debunked, subsequent studies have found no connection, and the journal has retracted the paper, but concerns remain.

During an outbreak in Columbus, Ohio that lasted from November 2022 to February 2023, public health officials said many parents of unvaccinated children with measles chose not to have their children get the MMR vaccine because of misconceptions that it causes autism.

“Since Anfro Wakefield’s article, people have developed important misconceptions from that ongoing misinformation and misinformation about the MMR vaccine,” Dr. Gregory Poland, head of the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic, told ABC News. “He claimed there was a link to autism. About two dozen studies later found nothing. None of them suggested there was a risk of autism.”

“Once you scare people, it’s harder to get rid of them, so people then started to back away from this vaccine,” Offit added. “So we saw cases again.”

Experts said that the Covid pandemic caused another problem. First, during the early days of the epidemic, people were afraid to go to doctors’ offices, which delayed children’s access to vaccinations.

Then, after the politicization of Covid vaccines, this may have caused a decline in confidence in vaccination overall.

There has been an “acceleration of anti-vaccine sentiment that we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think what we may also see is a spillover that extends beyond COVID vaccines to all childhood immunizations,” Hotez said.

“This rise in cases is a reminder of the ongoing challenges we face with vaccine hesitancy and the need to maintain high vaccination coverage to achieve herd immunity. We need a concerted effort to address these issues and ensure our public health infrastructure is strong enough to meet these challenges.” ” “Dealing with outbreaks like this,” added Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Another reason for low vaccination rates may be that because diseases spread at low rates due to vaccines, people forgot how dangerous they were before vaccines appeared, according to experts.

It’s not just a problem in the United States. Measles cases have been on the rise globally in recent years, increasing 18% from 2021 to 2022, after vaccinations declined over the past few years, according to a report from the World Health Organization and the CDC. Diseases. last year.

Deaths globally also increased by 43% compared to the same period, as 37 countries witnessed a major outbreak of the disease in 2022 compared to 22 countries in 2021.

Experts say they are continuing to educate parents about vaccine safety, and even call for vaccine education to begin in adolescence.

“It’s a dangerous game we’re playing by leaving a critical percentage of children unvaccinated,” Offit said. “This is a dangerous and unnecessary game we are playing. This is a safe and effective vaccine. This is a virus that can cause great suffering, hospitalization and sometimes death. Do not play with this virus or we will pay an equal price.” A bigger price than we pay now.”

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