Measles Outbreak on Pace to Be Largest in Decades

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y. on March 27, 2019.

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y. on March 27, 2019. AP Photo

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Ninety new cases were confirmed last week, bringing the nationwide total to 555, according to federal health officials.

Federal officials last week confirmed 90 new cases of the measles, bringing the nationwide total to 555 as outbreaks continue in five states.

“This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000,” behind 667 cases in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York City accounts for more than half of those, with 285 cases confirmed as of Monday. Most are children living in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Queens that have been targets of anti-vaccine propaganda. Mayor Bill de Blasio last week called the outbreak a public health emergency as the city’s health commissioner ordered all unvaccinated adults and children who live, work or reside in various zip codes to get the vaccine or be subjected to a $1,000 fine.

“Every hour, every day matters here. If people would just go and get vaccinated, there's no cause for a fine," de Blasio said. "It's not our goal to issue violations. We want to simply solve the problem."

Parents in Brooklyn are suing to stop that order, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

A total of 20 states have reported cases of the measles, with confirmed outbreaks—defined as three or more cases—in New York, Washington, Michigan, California and New Jersey. The outbreaks are “linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries,” including Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, the CDC said.

Officials within those states have taken measures to contain the outbreaks, including urging unvaccinated adults and children to get the vaccine immediately. In Rockland County, New York, officials declared a state of emergency and banned unvaccinated children from public spaces for 30 days after confirmed cases there numbered more than 150. The ban was later halted by a judge pending an April 19 hearing. As of Monday, measles cases in the county totaled 186, according to the local health department.

Cases have also been reported in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas. The vast majority are people who have not received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, according to the CDC.

“The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective,” the agency says on its website. “Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93 percent effective.”

Despite the debunked theory that vaccines can cause autism and other disorders, 17 states allow parents to exempt their children from vaccines due to philosophical or personal reasons. Most states also allow religious exemptions. Legislators in some states are reconsidering those provisions amid the ongoing outbreak, though none have been signed into law. The House of Representatives in Washington passed a bill eliminating the personal and philosophical exemption specifically for the measles vaccine, but the legislation has so far not passed the Senate.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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