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Post-pandemic vaccine hesitancy fueling latest measles outbreak

Ariel Cohen, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

“We know we’re certainly going to fall off a little bit,” said Greg Flynn, a Mississippi health department spokesperson of state vaccination rates. “Our concern is for the children that can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons being exposed to a disease that’s not being eradicated.”

While Mississippi has yet to see a case of measles during this current wave, Flynn said the department is concerned about the spread from Florida to nearby New Orleans.

But despite concerns about the spreading virus, experts warn that tightening vaccine requirements will only create more backlash because of how politicized vaccination has become.

“This is not a time that most states are gonna get more aggressive about tightening up any kind of mandate just because things are so polarized,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Missed opportunities

Before the pandemic, many kids received routine vaccinations, including measles, at back-to-school clinics.

But those opportunities disappeared during the pandemic and people also fell behind on routine pediatrician appointments. So as parents play catch-up, many states have waived the once-strict vaccine requirements to give families time to get back to the doctors.


Unlike COVID-19, measles infects almost every unvaccinated person it comes into contact with. Also, unlike COVID-19, almost every person who receives the measles shot is protected from the disease for life.

“Measles was one of those diseases that, you know, somebody walks through the room with measles, and you know, everybody’s unvaccinated; nine out of 10 people get it,” Benjamin said.

When an unvaccinated person comes in contact with measles, CDC guidance is to quarantine for 21 days — a time period that is not realistic for most children.

New York state saw a significant measles outbreak in 2019, pre-pandemic, that was isolated mainly to the Hasidic Jewish communities in Brooklyn. The New York Department of Health quickly quarantined the community.

“This outbreak could get to be just as bad if we don’t know when we need to act,” Plescia said. “And now the political environment is obviously much different.”

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