According to figures released by health officials, measles was considered “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000. However, thanks in part to the anti-vax movement, certain areas in the U.S. are now considered “hot spots” for the disease.
According to Newsweek, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah are all U.S. states that have seen an upward trend in non-medical exemptions from vaccinations from 2009 to 2017.
Newsweek also stated that “non-medical exemptions from childhood vaccinations on the grounds of ‘philosophical belief’ has risen since 2009 in 12 of the 18 states that allow the practice.”
These figures are from a new study into the link between non-medical exemptions and the decline in actual vaccinations as a result. This study was headed by expert scientists in the field and published in PLoS ONE on Tuesday.
The study delved into whether there was a correlation between non-medical exemptions (NMEs) and a decline in vaccinations as a result. Scientists involved in the study also noted potential hot spots at risk of measles outbreaks.
The scientific researchers gathered information on children who were granted NMEs prior to school entry. These NMEs can be granted for things such as religious and philosophical beliefs. However, it was the latter reason the researchers were more interested in. In other words, they were interested in reasons such as those chosen by anti-vaxxers when they decide not to vaccinate their children.
The study found that of the 18 states that allowed a philosophical reason for granting an NME, 12 are now considered potential hot spots for previously preventable diseases such as measles.
“It is important to note that NMEs continue to rise in at least one-third of the 18 states, with no signs of slowing in those rates. In addition, in those states with plateauing levels, the potential for outbreaks still exists,” the report stated.
Within these hot spots, there were several particular areas of concern according to the study. Newsweek states that Idaho has a high percentage of hot spot areas which included Camas, an area that had “an NME rate of nearly 27 percent.”
Seattle, Spokane, and Portland were also considered high-risk areas on account of 400-plus kindergartners that were granted NMEs. As well, in Maricopa, Arizona, nearly 3,000 children had been granted NMEs between 2015 and 2016.
The main concern with the areas listed above was the fact that so many were considered “densely-populated urban areas” which could help diseases such as measles spread rapidly.
“Our findings indicate that new foci of anti-vaccine activities are being established in major metropolitan areas, rendering select cities vulnerable for vaccination-preventable diseases,” the researchers noted in the report.
But why is measles so dangerous?
According to the CDC, measles is a “serious respiratory disease that causes a rash and fever” as well as being highly contagious. This disease can be dangerous for any age groups but is particularly serious to the very young. According to their findings, “from 2001-2013, 28 percent of children younger than 5 years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital.”
Complications arising from the measles can include pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness, and death. According to the Oxford Vaccine Group in the UK, “measles causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in about one in every thousand children who get it.” Even today, with modern medical technology, this is a serious complication that will usually “requires admission to an intensive care unit.”
So far this year, 63 people have contracted measles, which is easily preventable via the MMR or MMRV vaccine. While this number isn’t considered very high, the concern with these anti-vax hot spots is that if an outbreak were to occur there, the risk is the disease could spread exponentially among those that were not immunized.
The MMR vaccine is considered 93 percent effective in a single dose and 97 percent effective if an additional booster shot is issued. This vaccine also helps prevent mumps and rubella, with the MMRV vaccine also covering the varicella (chickenpox) virus.