Thursday January 23, 2020

Measles Cases Between Jan to March have Exceeded the 2018 Count: US Health Officials

Public health authorities worry about outbreaks in communities where vaccination rates are low

Public health authorities worry about outbreaks in communities where vaccination rates are low, fueled by a growing movement of people who view the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella as dangerous. VOA

U.S. health officials say that between January and March, 387 cases of measles have been reported in 15 states, exceeding the count for all of last year. In 2018, 372 cases were reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health authorities worry about outbreaks in communities where vaccination rates are low, fueled by a growing movement of people who view the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella as dangerous. The measles component of the vaccine has been in widespread use since the 1960s, and medical experts say the MMR vaccine is safe and highly effective.

“We have growing pockets of susceptibility,” said epidemiologist Arthur Reingold of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, as the virus is carried from regions where measles is more widespread. “When we do have someone travel from New York to Israel or from Europe to Disneyland or whatever you envision, we have the opportunity for much larger outbreaks.”

Measles deaths declined worldwide from 550,000 in 2000 to 110,000 in 2017. Public health officials say the vaccine is the reason. The World Health Organization says measles immunizations prevented 21 million deaths between 2000 and 2017.

The organization says more than 95 percent of such deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and poor health infrastructure.

In 2017, however, 20 million infants did not receive at least one of the recommended two doses of the measles vaccine, putting their communities at risk. India, Pakistan and Nigeria are among the countries with large concentrations of unvaccinated children.

In the United States, where the inoculations are widely available, anti-vaccine sentiment has led to children at risk of contracting measles. The disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

The anti-vaccine movement gained momentum when a 1998 study — which was later retracted — linked autism, a developmental disability, to the MMR vaccine that inoculates against measles, mumps and rubella.

Repeated studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism, says infectious disease expert Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

“The scientific community responded with studies involving hundreds of thousands of children,” he said. “And we’ve clearly shown that children who get the MMR vaccine are no more likely to get autism than children who don’t.” He added that children with autism were no more likely to have received the vaccine than those without the condition.

This issue is personal for Hotez, whose grown daughter has autism. He has laid out his evidence in the book “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism.”

Critics are unconvinced. “Nobody can scientifically say whether the MMR is actually causing more harm than measles, mumps and rubella,” maintains Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an activist attorney. “The reason for that is, like other vaccines,” he said, “it’s not required to be safety tested.”

measles cases
Sign advertising free measles vaccines and information about measles are displayed at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., March 27, 2019. VOA

It is true that vaccines have not been subjected to double-blind tests, medical experts say, tracking children who have received the vaccine against others who have not, with parents unaware of which children were vaccinated. The experts say that in the United States, measles typically kills one in 1,000 who contract it, and mortality is far higher in the developing world, so a controlled trial would put many children at risk.

Major medical groups and public health agencies agree, says epidemiologist Arthur Reingold.

The “CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), WHO or the American Academy of Pediatrics are all in total agreement about the benefits of vaccination against measles and other diseases radically outweighing any conceivable risks,” he said.

The CDC says that study after study has verified the safety of the measles vaccine, and that the risk of severe allergic reaction is one in a million.

Growing numbers of unvaccinated children have given measles a foothold in the United States and Europe, however. Vulnerable communities include tightly knit or isolated groups, for example, of the Amish in Ohio, Orthodox Jews in New York, and eastern European immigrants in Washington State.

California, Mississippi and West Virginia have responded by refusing exemptions from vaccination, except for medical reasons. Forty-seven states allow broader exemptions.

“Of those 47,” Hotez said, “there are 18 that also allow non-medical exemptions for reasons of personal or philosophical belief, and that’s where the battleground is.”

measles cases
FILE – 15-month-old August Goepferd received the measles, mumps and rubella booster shot at a clinic at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. VOA

He says misinformation about vaccine safety is spread on the web and through books sold on Amazon, while medical experts face more difficulty in having their message heard.

“We’re looking at over 500 anti-vaccine websites that are out there,” he said, adding that each of them is “amplified on Facebook and other forms of social media.” Hotez says vaccine opponents tailor their message by region.

“So with Texas, they see the soft underbelly being the far political right, the Tea Party, and they use Tea Party language,” he said. “Up in the Pacific Northwest, in Washington State or Oregon, they might use language of the far left.”

Kennedy says the CDC works hand in hand with the industry and hides the risks. “The parents should know more about what’s good for that child than corrupted regulatory agencies and big pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

ALSO READ: Experts Call Next UN Food Chief Must Tackle Rising Hunger and Climate Change Threats

Medical experts worldwide say the MMR vaccine is essential for public health because measles is highly contagious and potentially deadly, and one infected person may infect three others.

“Then, each of those three people might infect three other people,” said Arthur Reingold. “And then another generation after that. Each of those people might infect some other people, and we could end up having sustained transmission.”

Health experts say that could bring a return to conditions of decades ago, when measles killed millions of children each year around the world. (VOA)

Next Story

Measles Cases in US Cross 1,000 Mark for 2019

As of last week, the total for 2019 had already reached the highest point in any year since 1992, when there were 2,237 cases of the infectious disease reported

measles cases
FILE - A man walks past a sign advising about a measles outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York, April 25, 2019. VOA

The number of measles cases confirmed in the United States in 2019 has reached 1,001, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said this week. As of last week, the total for 2019 had already reached the highest point in any year since 1992, when there were 2,237 cases of the infectious disease reported.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has been deeply engaged in promoting the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, amid concerning signs that there are pockets of undervaccination around the country,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday.

Azar reinforced the importance of vaccines in combating the outbreak.

FILE – A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle. VOA

“We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak. I encourage all Americans to talk to your doctor about what vaccines are recommended to protect you, your family, and your community from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.

Measles is highly contagious. The disease is usually spread through sneezing and coughing. It can linger in the air for up to two hours. Cases have been reported in more than half of U.S. states. New York has had the highest total, with nearly 700 cases reported this year.

Most of those cases have been in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens, where there are low vaccination rates. The New York City Department of Health said that as of Monday, 566 cases had been confirmed in those areas since September.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health experts, Muntu Davis, Health Officer, left, and Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer answer questions regarding the measles response and the quarantine orders during a news conference in Los Angeles Friday, April 26, 2019. VOA

Clark County in Washington state had the second-largest outbreak in the U.S. this year with more than 70 cases reported. According to the CDC, the outbreaks in New York City and Rockland County, N.Y., threaten to nullify the nation’s status of having officially eliminated measles.

ALSO READ: U.S. Measles Outbreak Raises Concerns About Immunity in Adults

“That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health. The measles elimination goal, first announced in 1966 and accomplished in 2000, was a monumental task,” the CDC said in a May press release.

“Before widespread use of the measles vaccine, an estimated 3 [million] to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States, along with an estimated 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations,” the release said. (VOA)