March 23, 2022

In The News: Measles Cases Drop During Pandemic

As reported by Medscape, PIDS member Walter Orenstein cautioned a recent plunge in reported cases should not diminish how we perceive the threat posed by measles, or other infectious diseases. Though such a decline may prompt lawmakers into funding or mandate cuts or give a false sense of security to medical professionals, any such reaction may well carry severe consequences. The remarks were made at last month’s 12th World Congress of the World Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases (WSPID).

The CDC confirmed 1,282 cases of measles in 31 states for 2019, the highest number of cases since 1992, stemming from a pair of outbreaks. Due to the mitigation efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the floor opened up and measles cases plummeted to 13 cases in 2020 before ticking up to 49 for 2021. It is that pre-pandemic level, along with vaccine hesitancy that has only been exaggerated during the pandemic, that drives concerns.

It was just in 2000 that measles was declared eliminated from the United States. The public health victory was the result of government leaders making decisions over the span of decades in pursuit of that goal, including providing stable funding and enacting “No Shots, No School” laws mandating vaccination for children entering kindergarten. Now, however, that status is at risk.

Subsequent vaccine misinformation campaigns have contributed to measles cases rising in recent years. The spread of misinformation regarding measles vaccination through social media channels also served as a pre-cursor to those against COVID-19 vaccines. Combating misinformation and overcoming vaccine hesitancy will require better strategies by government officials and medical professionals.

The pandemic has shown that vaccine misinformation is prevalent and developing the right strategies now may help promote vaccine acceptance and stop the spread of both misinformation and these infectious diseases. Quoted throughout the story, Dr. Orenstein remarked, “We need to make a case, particularly with the political community, that low incidence of measles today should not be assumed to be security. Unless we do something to catch up, we could be in big trouble. We need to take action before we see a resurgence…we need to make investments in what’s called implementation science research, to try and understand what messages, what issues need to be addressed, so that we can overcome hesitancy.”

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