The Wall Street Journal

What the CDC and States Are Doing to Stop the Spread of Measles


With measles outbreaks continuing to rise as the summer travel season heats up, WSJ's Lorie Hirose takes a look at state vaccination laws and what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing to fight the disease. Photo Illustration: Laura Kammermann

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… show captions ↓
- This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak.
- Measles in the U.S. just hit the highest number of cases
in more than 25 years.
That's according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even more alarming, the agency says,
if measles is not contained,
the U.S. will hit a major public health turning point.
- [Thomas] It takes a full year sustained transmission
within the U.S. to lose elimination status,
and right now, we're about, well,
three or four months away from that.
- Measles is really scary because it is so contagious.
If a person with measles is in a room with 10 other people
who are unvaccinated, nine of them will get measles.
- Since September 2018, there have been measles outbreaks
in more than two dozen states.
The CDC defines an outbreak as three or more cases.
New York City and Rockland County, New York
have the biggest and longest running outbreaks
since the measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.
Doctors at the CDC say these cases have been spreading
among unvaccinated children
in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.
To prevent measles from spreading,
the CDC says almost all, 95% of the population,
needs to be vaccinated.
Laws in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
require public school students have an MMR,
measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.
All of the states and D.C. allow exemptions
for medical reasons such as allergies
or for people who are immuno compromised
because the are being treated for cancer.
All but five have religious exemptions.
16 states have philosophical exemptions
for families who don't believe in vaccines.
In the wake of the latest measles outbreaks,
some 10 states have considered eliminating
or making it harder to get exemptions.
So far in 2019,
Washington state removed its personal belief exemption,
Maine took away philosophical and religious exemptions,
and New York removed religious exemptions.
- [Thomas] We do know that the easier it is
to get an exemption, the more people have exemptions,
so tightening that up can help with improving coverage.
- Doctor Clark says, right now, most cases in the U.S.
can be linked back to someone who wasn't vaccinated
who traveled abroad and brought the measles home.
The World Health Organization reports measles outbreaks
in Israel, the Philippines, and Ukraine.
The CDC keeps a Do Not Board List.
The Transportation Security Administration
can stop airline passengers
from boarding a commercial flight.
- [Thomas] You can prevent somebody who either has measles
or is highly likely to develop measles
because they've had an exposure from traveling
if they plan to travel when they're potentially infectious.
It's kind of a tool of last resort,
but it does allow Health Departments
to be able to say, look,
we can do this and we really encourage you not to travel
and not to put other people at risk.
- So far, at least eight people in five states
have been flagged for the Do Not Board List.
When contacted, those passengers agreed not to fly.
Still, CDC officials are concerned that number could climb.
(pensive mallet percussion music)

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