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Measles vaccine rates decline, driving an outbreak, infectious disease expert says

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is the best protection against the measles virus. The CDC reports that two doses of the MMR vaccine provide 97 percent protection against measles and one dose provides 93 percent protection.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is the best protection against the measles virus. The CDC reports that two doses of the MMR vaccine provide 97 percent protection against measles and one dose provides 93 percent protection.

Central Florida is in a precarious position with measle vaccination rates down and more cases of the disease emerging around the state.

Florida now has 10 reported cases of measles, as of Tuesday, according to the Florida Department of Health. The most recent case emerged in Broward County, totaling nine reports – all of which are children.

One adult in Polk County was also reported on Saturday. As a result, local experts are raising concerns and reminding parents that vaccination is the best way to protect their children from the highly contagious disease.

“The best way to do that, especially in regard to measles, is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Jarod Fox, an infectious disease expert from Orlando Health.

But vaccination rates have fallen in Central Florida, which has left the area susceptible to an outbreak. Over a thousand children are not vaccinated, Fox said.

“That's what drives most of these outbreaks with measles specifically is the vaccination rate. Anytime you have a low vaccination rate for measles, it's going to have a potential for these outbreaks,” he said.

What is measles?

The measles virus is contagious through the air and can linger in a location for two hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is so contagious, it can infect 90% of people standing near a person with measles. Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a rash with tiny spots.

According to the World Health Organization, there is no treatment for measles.

What is the measles vaccine?

The MMR vaccine was released for public use in 1963 and is a two-shot immunization process, according to the WHO. The first shot is usually administered from age 1 year to about 15 months old. The second dose is given between the ages of 4 and 6. Both shots are thought to give lifetime coverage for measles, according to the CDC. It also says the first shot of the vaccine has a 93% efficacy rate against the virus and a 97% rate after the second shot.

The CDC has a desired immunization rate of 95%, but Florida remains below that at 91% of the population covered, CDC data shows.

Orange County vaccination rates

The last time measles appeared in Orange County was in 2013 with four cases.

Orange County’s basic immunization rates for kindergarteners – which includes the two-shot vaccine against measles – have declined since 2015. The FDOH’s most recent data show Orange’s immunization rate was at 88.2% in 2022. The year before it was 89.6%.

"Anytime you have a low vaccination rate for measles, it's going to have a potential for these outbreaks."
Dr. Jarod Fox

Talking to parents about getting their child vaccinated has become even harder since the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox said.

“There's been a lot more of that misinformation even though the MMR vaccine has been around since 1963 and it's been well studied. There are still concerns around vaccines in general and that is what has driven the vaccination decrease across the country,” he said.

Fox said he tries to level with parents, knowing that they’re fearful that something might happen if their child gets the shot.

“But those fears are unfounded, and the risk of getting the disease when you’re unvaccinated is much higher than any potential risk associated with the vaccine,” he said.

If an unvaccinated person knows they were exposed, they can still get vaccinated 72 hours after exposure.

“Vaccination either before or immediately after the exposure is important in preventing further infections,” Fox said.

Copyright 2024 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Joe Mario Pedersen
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