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Children's Vaccines Health Center

Measles on Upswing Despite Vaccine

Vaccination has saved thousands of lives, report says, but outbreaks occurring as some people opt out
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In 2013, there were 189 measles cases. In 2011, 220 people had measles -- the most since 1996, according to the CDC.

"Today's measles outbreaks are too often the result of people opting out. Most of the people, 84 percent of those who were reported to have measles thus far, were not vaccinated or didn't know their vaccination status. Of the unvaccinated U.S. residents, 68 percent had personal belief exemptions," Schuchat said.

Areas with the highest number of cases include California with 58, New York City with 24 and Washington state with 13, Schuchat said. Thirty-four of all the cases were imported, involving U.S. residents who traveled overseas and foreign visitors. Half of those importations were from the Philippines, where there were about 20,000 cases and 69 deaths as of February, she said.

Schuchat noted that over the last 20 years, for measles alone, vaccination had prevented about 71 million cases and almost 9 million hospitalizations. "It's extraordinary what we are able to achieve with vaccinating, compared with not vaccinating, she said.

One expert not involved with the report said that people forget how bad measles was before there was a vaccine.

"Measles caused about 3 million cases a year in the United States before there was a vaccine in 1963," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It would cause 48,000 hospitalizations and about 500 deaths," Offit said. "Nobody had to be convinced to get a measles vaccine."

Now measles is reappearing because people are making a choice not to get vaccinated, Offit said. "They are choosing not to get it because they don't fear the disease," he said.

Offit thinks this may be a natural outcome of a vaccine program. The disease is conquered, the disease is forgotten, people don't get vaccinated, and the disease comes back. "This is just going to be the pattern until the sun burns out," he said.

It will take more measles hospitalizations and maybe a death or two to convince people not to opt out of vaccinating their children, Offit said. "It has to get to a level of consciousness that you realize that not getting vaccinated means it might be you or your child who gets hospitalized or dies," he said.

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