US May Lose Measles Elimination Status Due to Ongoing Outbreaks

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Source: Alex Nowrasteh, “Most Immigrants Are Better Vaccinated Than Americans,”, July 12, 2016

Due to the ongoing outbreaks, there is a “reasonable chance” the United States will lose the measles elimination status it gained in 2000, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization (WHO) grants the status and removes it when measles has been spreading continuously for one year.

The United States had 1,241 confirmed individual cases of measles between Jan. 1 and Sep. 5, 2019. This year marks the greatest number of measles cases in the country since 1992, when 2,200 cases were reported. A total of 1,620 measles cases were reported between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2018.

While cases have been reported in 31 states, 75% of measles cases were linked to outbreaks in New York, including those among ultra-Orthodox communities who do not believe in vaccination.

A study of children born in New York between Jan. 1, 2009 and Aug. 14, 2011 found that nearly one in four did not follow the vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC. Some parents say they should be able to choose what is best for their children rather than follow a state vaccine mandate. Actress Jessica Biel, for example, stated, “I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians… because I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients and the ability to provide that treatment.”

Some states have responded to measles outbreaks and dropping vaccination rates with stricter exemption laws. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-276 into law on Sep. 9, 2019, which will supervise doctors who give medical exemptions for vaccines more closely in an effort to reduce fraudulent medical exemptions. California does not allow for personal or religious exemptions.

The United States is not alone in the resurgence of measles. The United Kingdom lost its measles-elimination status in Aug. 2019. In a blog post, Public Health England stated, “Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine. Losing the elimination status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the potential risks posed by measles, the importance of vaccination and timely reporting of suspected cases to limit further spread.”

Two other countries, Venezuela and Brazil, have lost elimination status in the past two years. WHO provisional data for Jan. 1, 2019 through July 31, 2019 shows 364,808 cases of measles from 182 countries, more cases than any year since 2006. For the same six-month period last year, 129,239 cases were reported from 181 countries.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should states mandate vaccines for public school kids? Private school kids? Why or why not?

2. Should parents be able to decide on the best vaccine schedule for their own kids? Why or why not?

3. Should kids be allowed to get vaccinated without their parents’ permission? At what age could they make that choice?


Jessica Biel,, June 13, 2019

CDC, “Measles — United States, 1992,”, May 21, 1993

CDC, “Measles Cases and Outbreaks,”, Aug. 26, 2019

Elizabeth Cohen, “The US Eliminated Measles in 2000. The Current Outbreak Could Change That,”, Aug. 28, 2019

Beth Mole, “‘We’re Embarrassed’: US Is Close to Losing Measles-Elimination Status,”, Aug. 28, 2019

Jessica A. Nadeau, “Vaccinating My Way–Use of Alternative Vaccination Schedules in New York State,” The Journal of Pediatrics, Jan. 2015

Public Health England, “Measles in England,”, Aug. 19, 2019

Jennifer Reich, “I’ve Talked to Dozens of Parents about Why They Don’t Vaccinate. Here’s What They Told Me,”, June 13, 2019

Stephanie Soucheray, “Global Measles Outbreaks Make 2019 a Record-Setting Year,”, Aug. 12, 2019

Don Thompson, “Newsom Signs Vaccine Exemption Bills,”, Sep. 9, 2019

WHO, “New Measles Surveillance Data from WHO,”, Aug. 12, 2019