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Measles outbreak breaks out among unvaccinated kindergarten children in Ohio

Measles outbreak breaks out among unvaccinated kindergarten children in Ohio

This child, who was sick with smallpox, showed a characteristic rash on the fourth day of its evolution.  Measles can cause hearing loss, brain damage and be fatal to young children.
Increase / This child, who was sick with smallpox, showed a characteristic rash on the fourth day of its evolution. Measles can cause hearing loss, brain damage and be fatal to young children.

Amid declining vaccination rates across the country, a measles outbreak broke out this week among unvaccinated children at a childcare facility in Columbus, Ohio.

The outbreak has so far sickened at least four children, all of whom were unvaccinated and had not traveled, meaning they contracted the highly contagious virus locally, according to Columbus-area health officials. The investigation into the outbreak is ongoing. Health officials inform parents and ask for contacts. The childcare facility is cooperating and temporarily closed.

Columbus CBS affiliate WBNS-TV reported that one of the four cases was hospitalized in intensive care. Officials also said they expect additional cases to be identified in the coming days.

By email Thursday, a Columbus Public Health representative told Ars that all four cases are now recovering at home.

The representative did not have current or past information on vaccination rates in the area because it is not reported to the city health department. Ars requested that information from the state health department, but a spokesman said that information was not readily available. We’ll update this post when they arrive.

Worrying trends

But previously released data on statewide and nationwide vaccination rates show a clear decline amid the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an analysis that found vaccination coverage among kindergarteners decreased by one percentage point between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, dropping from approximately 95 percent to 94 percent.

In Ohio, the decline was sharper across the state. In the 2019-2020 school year. 92.4 percent kindergarten children were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). But in the 2020-2021 school year, coverage dropped to 89.6 percent.

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts, told WBNS that she has noticed a trend among local parents who are refusing to vaccinate their children. “The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from measles is to get vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is safe and very effective,” Roberts said.

The outbreak, while still small and localized, is raising concerns among public health officials about anti-vaccine sentiment lingering in the country. While anti-vaccine attitudes had been creeping in for years before the pandemic, they entered the mainstream amid the deluge of misinformation and politicization of public health that followed COVID-19. As Republican lawmakers lashed out at COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other health measures aimed at reducing transmission and preventing death and disease, efforts have spilled over into routine vaccinations.

In Ohio, for example, it was introduced by Republican legislators sweeping anti-vaccine legislation last year it would essentially override any vaccination requirements in the state, allowing people to refuse vaccines simply by citing “reasons of conscience.” The draft law, which is supported by the testimony of a doctor who false claims that vaccinations against COVID-19 cause people to become magnetic, has since stalled on the board. However, at least 25 countries have considered this year dozens of accounts roll back childhood vaccination requirements.

Preventable

So far, vaccination rates at the national and most state levels are fair, often below the 95 percent target, but still generally high. However, how the ongoing polio epidemic in New York has shown, decent overall vaccination rates can hide pockets of dramatically undervaccinated communities. One area of a county in New York affected by poliomyelitis, for example, the polio vaccination rate among children under 24 months is as high as 37 percent. That same county, Rockland, also had Explosive outbreak of smallpox in 2019.

Pockets of low vaccination coverage could fuel continued outbreaks of dangerous vaccine-preventable disease, undermining the success of mass vaccination campaigns, one of the greatest triumphs of modern public health. Of particular concern is the spread of polio and measles – both highly contagious and dangerous.

Measles can be spread by coughing, talking or simply being in the same room with someone infected with the virus. Ninety percent of unvaccinated people exposed will become ill, and 1 in 5 will require hospitalization, the Franklin County Health Department in Ohio (Franklin County includes Columbus) said in a news release.

“Measles is both highly contagious and preventable,” Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola said in a statement. “It can be a serious disease, so we strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to get vaccinated to prevent further spread.”

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