Author: Stacy Stevens Hall, RN MSN
The United States is ripe for measles outbreaks. This would be especially ironic, as measles outbreaks began the national childhood disease prevention program in the 1960s. Pandemic-related disruptions have left too many children without protection against vaccine-preventable diseases. Although measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, measles outbreaks are happening, right now in every region of the world.1
Measles is serious and extremely contagious viral infection without a specific medication for treatment. Nine of ten unprotected persons become ill following an exposure with more than 20% of those persons requiring hospitalization. One to 3 of every 1000 ill children will die from respiratory and neurologic complications of measles. 2 According to the documentary “Vaccination from the Misinformation Virus”, measles has a reproductive number between 12 and 16. This means one infected person can infect between 12 and 16 other individuals with the virus. 3
A safe and effective vaccine was developed and licensed in 1963.4 The first dose of the MMR-measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is recommended at age 12-15 months with a second dose at age 4-6 years.5 Most people vaccinated with MMR are protected for life. In the decades, before a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age.6
Following a measles epidemic in the United States in 1989-1991, CDC found that more than half of the children who had measles had not been immunized, even though many of them had seen a health care provider.6 In response, Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act creating the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program. This Program provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of their families’ inability to pay. Almost 50% of U.S. children 18 years old and younger are uninsured or underinsured and eligible for the VFC Program.7
Though the decline in measles-containing vaccine administration was lower than other childhood vaccines, there was a substantial reduction in VFC-funded pediatric vaccine ordering following the COVID-19 emergency declaration.8 Lower childhood vaccination rates along with the relaxation of disease preventive measures taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect storm for the spread of the measles virus.
The White House, Congress and HHS must immediately respond to calls from national leaders across the healthcare spectrum for the modernization of the Vaccines for Children Program. The U. S. healthcare infrastructure of public health, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers should not be asked to respond to preventable infectious disease outbreaks. Our childcare facilities, schools and communities are fatigued and overtaxed.
Vaccine access and health equities must be addressed. The cacophony measles outbreak response would cause must be mitigated now.