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Childhood disease eradication premature

Measles makes comeback in US

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Illustration by Sterling Clark

Measles is a communicable disease Americans just don’t worry about today. Federal health officials back in 2000 crowed it had been eradicated from the U.S.

Health professionals begin immunizing children against measles, mumps, rubella and now chickenpox just 12 months after birth, and measles inoculations, specifically, have been around for nearly 60 years.

But the disease has made a troubling comeback, caused by falling childhood vaccination rates across the country and in Howard County.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from nine states and New York City. The number of administered doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines (DTaP) fell 15.7% among children under age 2 in 2020, and 60% among those 2 to 6 years old in the spring of last year, compared to 2018 and 2019. Doses of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) dropped 22.4% among 1-year-olds, and 63% among those 2 to 8.

“General immunizations, as far as non-COVID [vaccines], are down,” Howard County Director of Nursing Jennifer Sexton reported at the county’s Board of Health meeting Sept. 13. Schools usually check student vaccination records, but Sexton told board members schools haven’t the time.

In 2014, the CDC reported 23 separate measles outbreaks, spurring 644 cases in 27 states, a number not seen since that eradication claim. Outbreaks in 2019 surpassed the 2014 surge, with 695 cases in 22 states reported by the end of April of that year.

Indiana health officials scrambled to contain a measles outbreak in February 2012, after two confirmed cases and two probable cases were identified in Boone and Marion counties. One infected person had been to the Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis, where 200,000 revelers had gathered two days before the big game.

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Two days after Super Bowl XLVI, 13 cases had been confirmed, including one at the Delphi Electronics and Safety plant in Kokomo. Howard County health officials said the Delphi employee contracted measles from his children, who attended school in Hamilton County. Health officials feared as many as 604 Delphi workers might’ve been exposed to the virus.

Indiana health officials say 95% of people who receive a single dose of the vaccine for measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox will develop immunity to measles. Ninety-nine percent will be protected from the virus after a second dose.

These measles outbreaks – and the 286,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 this year alone - spotlight the importance of immunizations to public health. And the Howard County Health Department makes it easy for families to get vaccinations.

Howard County offers free or low-cost vaccinations to all resident families without immunization coverage or health insurance. You can make an appointment to get critical child and adult inoculations by calling 765-456-2408.

Before the U.S. started vaccinating for measles in 1963, 3 million to 4 million Americans suffered from the disease annually, McClatchy’s Washington bureau reports. Between 400 and 500 Americans died from measles each year.

For the health of your family and the safety of the Howard County community, don’t ignore your immunizations or boosters.

- Kokomo Perspective