1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

US could lose measles elimination status over outbreaks

May 31, 2019

The United States has recorded its highest tally of measles cases in 27 years. If the US cannot control the outbreaks, it may lose its status of having eliminated measles.

A measles vaccine
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/empics/PA Wire/O. Humphreys

The United States recorded 971 cases of measles in the first five months of 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The tally is the highest in the US since 1994, when the total number of cases for the year hit 963.

The disease was once common in the US but became rare after vaccination campaigns that started in the 1960s. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 cases a year.

If the outbreaks continue, the US may lose its measles elimination status. The measles elimination goal was first announced in 1963 and accomplished in 2000.

Read more: Anti-vaxxer mentality is better tackled through empathy, not facts

Myths to blame

Public health officials have blamed the resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines.

Overall vaccination rates have remained fairly high, but outbreaks have been happening in communities where parents have refused recommended vaccinations, US health officials said.

"Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

"I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents," he added.

Read more: Why measles is so deadly and vaccination so important

Germany's vaccination problem

Cases have been reported in 26 states, but the majority are located in New York City.

The outbreak started after some unvaccinated children visited Israel, where a measles outbreak is occurring, and came back to New York.

More than 500 cases have been diagnosed in two Brooklyn neighborhoods — Williamsburg and Borough Park — and mainly among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities.

Among those affected, 42 have been hospitalized, including 12 treated in intensive care units.

Read more: Measles hot spot pediatrician's office?

Fines for the unvaccinated

More than 25,000 doses of vaccine have been given to children and teenagers in Williamsburg and Borough Park since October.

Some have been motivated by a city order issued in April that stated all children and adults who live in four Brooklyn ZIP codes be vaccinated or face fines up to $1,000 (€900).

City officials said 123 people have received summonses for not complying with the order.

law/rc (AP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.