What Happens in the Wake of a Measles Outbreak?

Over 200 cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. over the past few months, leading to a Senate hearing on March 5 devoted to outbreaks of preventable diseases.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that measles had been eliminated in the U.S. However, between January 1 and February 28 of 2019, 206 cases of measles were confirmed in 11 states, according to the latest data from the agency. The same data reveals that 70 of these cases originated in Clark County, Washington, with 61 of them occurring in people that had not been fully vaccinated.

The CDC explains that 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to ensure “herd immunity,” a term referring to the level necessary to protect those who cannot be vaccinated — infants and people with compromised immune systems — and to slow the spread of illness.

In Clark County only around 78 percent of people have been fully vaccinated.

The Impact of Washington’s Measles Outbreak

The effects of the ongoing measles outbreak spread far beyond the children who have contracted the disease. 

In Washington State, Governor Jay Inlsee declared a state of emergency, prompting state and local health departments to redirect at least 200 people to work exclusively on the measles outbreak. 

Dr. Alan Melnick, public health director for Clark County, told the PBS Newshour that the outbreak has already cost the state more than a million dollars and strained the county’s resources. County officials have been busy investigating every measles case and notifying the public about places the patient last visited, a task which is both time-consuming and expensive.

And it’s not just students with measles who are affected. As Evie Blad writes in Education Week:

When schools are identified, administrators must start an “exclusion period” of 21 days from the last time a student with measles attended, requiring students and staff who are not completely vaccinated against measles to stay home during that time period. That prevents students who may be contagious but not yet showing signs of the illness from passing it on to their peers.

This is all because some parents refuse to accept the importance of vaccinations.

All 50 states have laws requiring public school children to be fully vaccinated, but there are exceptions. All states allow medical exemptions, while 47 states allow religious exemptions and 17 states permit personal belief exemptions.

And in Clark County, these are easy to obtain: Parents just check a box on a form; no need to explain.

California, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only three states that exclusively accept medical exemptions. California eliminated its personal exemption after a measles outbreak in 2015 linked to Disneyland caused a big jump in the illness.

Ironically, yet another massive study proving that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine doesn’t cause autism was published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

A team of researchers in Denmark tracked a cohort of 657,461 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010 to determine whether children receiving an MMR vaccine had a significant chance of developing autism or symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. The answer was a definitive “No.”

Some children did show those signs, but researchers found no increased risk of autism when comparing children who had received the MMR vaccine to those who had not received it.

“It is time bury the hypothesis that MMR causes autism,” emphasized Dr. Mads Melbye, the lead author of the study and director of the States Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Combatting misinformation and promoting parental education are vital in the push to raise vaccination rates. And if other states followed the lead of California, Mississippi and West Virginia in not allowing personal exemptions, that would also make a huge difference.

Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before we see the next measles outbreak disrupting schools and bankrupting states. Anti-vaxxers, are you listening?

Photo Credit: Getty Images

46 comments

Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham21 hours ago

Luke: I agree "bashing" people who have concerns about vaccination does not serve any purpose and does not help to solve the real problems with vaccination. Thank you for your thoughtful questions that need to be answered.

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Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham21 hours ago

When I had the measles along with hundreds of other children a national emergency was not declared. Bed rest, fluids, adequate vitamin C and A plus parents, grandparents and neighbours taking extra care of you was the cure. People knew how to take care of children with measles and only those seriously ill would go to the hospitals. As there is so much scare-mongering parents panic when their children get measles rather than knowing how to care for them.This is over the top and suspicious for those that grew up when children did get measles and fully recovered plus life-long immunity. As well using the term anti-vaxers is not helpful. People are seeking informed consent and this anti-vax scaremongering is making a mockery of parents who really want the best for their children and all the available information to make good health choices. If there wasn't a problem people would not be saying anything. HAving to denigrate and encourage people to fight with one another over medical treatments does not help children. Let's get to the bottom of this and have full accountability and informed consent.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Ayesterday

Thank you.

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Lisa M
Lisa M9 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M9 days ago

Thanks.

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Bill Arthur
Bill A9 days ago

I suggest that 'religious' objections are no different from 'personal' objections because I know of no gods who have declared vaccinations off limits. Yes some of those gods followers have declared it so but since none of the gods envisioned man developing vaccines they never mentioned them.

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Luke H
Luke H10 days ago

Rhoberta E
Why are you so focused on the messenger, to the apparent exclusion of the message of my original post?

Where have you seen a post that mentions "both sides", as if we don't all want vaccines that are "safer and more effective"? How many times have I used that phrase?

How the heck can you say that my posts don't address the topic of this article?

Let the readers decide if all your speculation about the messenger is somehow relevant and worthwhile, as it's beyond me.

Over and out.

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Christine S

fine, don't vaccinate your kids- but don't take them out in public to infect others!

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Colin Clauscen
Colin C10 days ago

I am so glad no parent will ever ask my opinion as to whether to vaccinate or not, I would hate the responsibility.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E10 days ago

@ luke h
Being truthful and up front about why you are here would be a great start.
It will come to me where I have seen your posting "style" before.
You actually DON'T address the topic of this article do you.
You are subtly railing against what YOU think is wrong with our current immunization programs.
Do you have children? (hard to tell from your profile like so many here) If so are THEY immunized? How did you decide what to trust if so ?
Carry on with your email like posts . I will follow your "wisdom" and see if you offer any positive points for those with questions.
Your agenda is apparent.
I speculate on those diseases because you are basically saying the pharmaceutical companies seem to have minimal responsibility if a problem arises. Problems sometimes arise because we are NOT genetically identical as I have stated. Now that international travel is so readily available, some can be carriers and some did not avail themselves of a booster shot if recommended. That could be cost or ignorance or from reading posts like yours .

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