On May 30, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the United States was in danger of losing its measles elimination status. At that time, there had been 971 confirmed cases of measles in the United States, which was the most since 1994. Unfortunately, cases have continued to rise since then. By August 22, 2019, there were 1,215 confirmed cases of measles since the start of the year. The disease has been rising in Europe, too, and Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK have lost their elimination status.
Before a vaccine was widely used, the World Health Organization reports that there was a major measles epidemic ever two or three years. The highly contagious viral disease caused around 2.6 million deaths every year, many of them children. Public health experts are deeply dismayed that people are choosing not to use the vaccine.
"It certainly is incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status, because we do have a safe and effective vaccine," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told CNN.
In 1966, measles elimination became a goal and by 2000, because of hard work at all levels of our health care system, the disease was considered eliminated. We did it because most people were easily able to access an effective vaccine, and we had a strong infrastructure for detecting measles cases that did occur.
According to the CDC, “Before widespread use of the measles vaccine, an estimated three to four million people got measles each year in the United States, along with an estimated 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations.”
There are ongoing outbreaks in New York, including in Brooklyn and Queens; about 75 percent of this year’s cases have happened in New York. In the state's Rockland County, where as many as 28 percent of children may be unvaccinated, people that had been diagnosed with measles were barred from public spaces. The Rockland County Health Department reports that “as of August 26, 2019, there are 312 confirmed reported cases of measles in Rockland County” during the 2018 - 2019 outbreak.
Cases have also been reported in thirty other states. According to the CDC, outbreaks are considered ongoing in New York, Washington State, California, and Texas. See a map of all affected states here.
These outbreaks are connected to travelers that are returning from countries that are experiencing large measles outbreaks themselves, like the Philippines, Israel, and Ukraine. Most people that get the measles are not vaccinated. The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of six months get vaccinated for measles before they travel internationally.
“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated. Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease the vaccination prevents,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, M.D. “Your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being. CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end.”