An ongoing measles outbreak in the Columbus area has public health officials locally reminding parents to get their children vaccinated against measles.
“Immunization is the most important way to keep people safe from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” said Dr. Becky Thomas, medical director of Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County. “But unfortunately, the rates of routine childhood vaccinations have been declining in the United States.”
Unvaccinated individuals are at risk of infection and severe disease often requiring hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Measles is an infectious viral disease that causes a high fever and red, blotchy rash and is accompanied by cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, and loss of appetite.
The current measles outbreak in Franklin County has had 32 cases, with 31 of those cases in unvaccinated children and one with an unknown vaccination status. Of those children, 13 were hospitalized, according to Franklin County Public Health.
There were also 12 daycare and school locations impacted by this outbreak. The first case of the measles in Ohio since 2019 was first reported in June. This is the first measles outbreak in Ohio since 2014, which had 382 confirmed measles cases.
There are no reported measles cases in the Dayton region, but Public Health - Dayton and Montgomery County is reminding parents to stay up-to-date with their children’s immunization schedules.
A recent Dayton Daily News investigation found there is a growing moral opposition to vaccinations required for school with experts attributing anti-vaccine sentiments to misinformation.
The newspaper found parents are increasingly choosing to opt their children out of getting immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox. The percentage of children entering kindergarten with moral exemptions from getting such vaccines increased statewide last year and was over 10% at 14 area schools. There were only five schools over that threshold the year before.
Statewide, the percentage of kindergarteners unvaccinated for moral or religious reasons climbed from 2.4% to 3.2%. The percentage of kindergarteners statewide with all required vaccines last year increased to 88.2%. The Dayton Daily News reported earlier this year that vaccination rates dropped in the 2020-2021 school year, largely because of access issues and school staffing shortages during the height of the pandemic.
In 2021, a record high of nearly 40 million children worldwide missed a measles vaccine dose, the CDC and World Health Organization said. There were 25 million children who missed their first dose and an additional 14.7 million children who missed their second dose.
“We want to remind people and reiterate the importance of those vaccinations they can get,” said Dan Suffoletto, public information manager at Public Health. “(During COVID), there was a lot of disruption in routine medical care and procedures.”
There is no treatment for the measles virus, which is potentially deadly, but a vaccine has been available since 1963. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but anti-vaccination sentiment has allowed the virus to reemerge in recent years, the CDC said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also caused additional disruptions to vaccination schedules. Providers started seeing more patients by telehealth and reducing in-person visits when not necessary, which led to a drop in immunization levels.
“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky. “Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under-vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.”
Across the globe, there were an estimated 9 million cases and 128,000 deaths from measles in 2021. Twenty-two countries experienced large and disruptive outbreaks. Also in 2021, nearly 61 million measles vaccine doses were postponed or missed due to COVID-19-related delays in immunization campaigns in 18 countries.
Measles is very contagious and spreads to about nine out of 10 unvaccinated children who are exposed, even before children have symptoms, according to the CDC. Measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace after an infected person leaves an area. Traditionally, about 20% of children with measles will need to be hospitalized, but the Columbus outbreak has seen 40% hospitalized.
Health officials say 95% or more of the population needs to have had two doses of the measles vaccine to create herd immunity in order to protect communities and maintain large-scale measles elimination. The world is well under that, the CDC said, with only 81% of children receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and only 71% of children receiving their second measles-containing vaccine dose. These are the lowest global coverage rates of the first dose of measles vaccination since 2008, although coverage varies by country.
“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”
If people do not get recommended vaccinations, Public Health said diseases like measles, polio, and whooping cough will become more common, putting children at risk of serious complications from diseases that can be prevented by available vaccines.
The CDC recommends all children get two doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at four through six years of age.
The measles vaccine is safe and effective with hundreds of millions of doses given safely over the last 50 years, Public Health said. Contact your local pharmacy or healthcare provider.
In addition, Public Health is providing measles vaccinations at its clinic at located in the Reibold Building, 117 South Main St. in downtown Dayton. To schedule an appointment, call 937-225-4550.