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  • Katelyn Tobey

Measles Cases Rising Against Vaccination Decline

Courtesy of Doc James


As of March 28, 2024, the CDC has reported 97 cases of the measles this year, a stark increase in comparison to figures over the last five years. This growth has correlated with a widespread decrease in U.S. childhood vaccination rates, which the CDC has indicated is a dangerous trend that puts many at risk. During the week of March 17 alone, 31 measles cases were reported—the largest weekly case increase so far this year. Children are among the most vulnerable to contracting and spreading the measles virus with 74% of cases reported being under the age of 19. The large majority of cases have been from individuals without a vaccination or an incomplete vaccination; 71% of those infected this year had only received one of the two required MMR doses or none at all. 


According to the CDC, two doses of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is the minimum requirement to effectively prevent the measles. Millions of children globally do not meet this recommended dosage, and numbers have continued to lower following declining childhood vaccination rates in the wake of COVID-19. The American Medical Association president, Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, stated that he opposes religious-based vaccine exemptions because they are fueled by misinformation which “continues to drive vaccine hesitancy.” The CDC’s goal is a 95% vaccination rate in children, but the number of kindergarteners who have opted for vaccine exemptions since 2020 have caused vaccination rates to remain below this goal.  Decreased rates have also been observed in tetanus, polio, diphtheria, and varicella vaccines.  


Over half of the cases reported this year originated in Chicago, an epicenter for U.S. measles outbreaks. The strong majority of cases have been contracted by children from infancy to age 17. The Chicago Department of Health (CDH) has urged unvaccinated Chicago residents, especially children, to get both doses of the MMR vaccine. The CDH has also identified key locations where the outbreaks originated, which include multiple bus routes, a Walmart, the Cook County Health Building, and the Iglesia Bautista Fundamental Church. 


John Vertefeuille, the director of the CDC’s Global Immunization Division, reported in a newsroom release that the increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we’ve seen in the past few years.” Infection rate predictions for upcoming months have experts concerned that a repeat of the 2019 measles epidemic, in which 1,274 people contracted the disease, might occur. 


The measles virus is extremely contagious, as it spreads through the air when someone coughs, sneezes, or breathes and can live on surfaces for up to two hours. Those who are infected may not begin to experience common measles symptoms, such as the infamous rash, for up to 14 days, but are contagious for four days before the symptoms start. This phenomenon is disastrous for prevention efforts, as people can infect others while completely unaware they are infected themselves. 


Florida Surgeon General Joseph Lapedo offered his support towards those opposed to vaccination who are seeking vaccine exemption in schools. This comes after many children in Broward County, FL at Manatee Bay Elementary contracted the disease, 11% of which are unvaccinated. Many voters in Florida during COVID-19 were opposed to vaccination and supported by Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who appointed Surgeon General Lapedo. In a post-Trump era, those opposed to COVID-19 mandates are now more opposed to general vaccination as well. In a Lancet article from the National Library of Medicine, Professors Richard Carpiano and Timothy Callaghan asserted how the efforts of anti-vaccination groups created “COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy” which is now “increasing hesitancy that existed pre-pandemic towards other vaccines”, especially among “particular audiences, including supporters of former US President Donald Trump.” 


While vaccination has become increasingly polarized following COVID-19, other past events have challenged the scientific basis of vaccine credibility such as Andrew Wakefield’s study that falsely connected the MMR vaccine to autism, prompting the anti-vaccination movement of the early 2000s. Although the study was redacted and disproved numerous times, its effects were long and widespread. Fears surrounding vaccines causing autism and other diseases in children has many today still choosing to exempt children from vaccines. Heather Dillard, a mother and nurse from Missouri asserted, "I have the right to decide what to put into my child's body, nobody has the right to put toxic chemicals into my son's bloodstream. That's taking my rights away, and it's very scary to me." 


In a meeting with the Department of Health on February 22, José Hagan of the World Health Organization stated, “what we're currently experiencing really is the results of accumulation of susceptible children who were not reached by immunization programs that were impacted by the COVID pandemic.” In the coming months, a national effort will need to be made to counteract misinformation and increase vaccination to curb the measles infection rate and prevent future outbreaks. 


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