- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
- Measles outbreaks have sickened more than 1,020 people across 28 US states this year – the highest number of cases in 25 years.
- New York has borne the brunt of this year’s illnesses: 531 measles cases have been reported in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and 266 people have gotten the measles in Rockland County since September.
- In both areas, Orthodox Jewish communities have been the target of anti-vaccine propaganda.
- On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that bars religious exemptions for vaccines in the state.
- California, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the only other states that require a medical reason for vaccine exemptions. Seventeen US states allow for philosophical exemptions.
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New York state just joined California, Mississippi, and West Virginia in requiring a sound medical reason for kids to be exempt from routine vaccinations.
The measles public-health emergency in the US shows no signs of slowing down: More than 1,020 people have gotten the measles in the US so far this year, a number the country hasn’t seen in 25 years.
“While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health, and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks,” Cuomo added.
As of June 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had tallied 1,022 cases of measles across 28 states. New York has been hit especially hard. At least 531 measles cases have been reported in New York City this year, and another 266 cases have popped up in Rockland County since September.
“We’re putting science ahead of misinformation about vaccines and standing up for the rights of immunocompromised children and adults, pregnant women, and infants who can’t be vaccinated through no fault of their own,” New York state Senator Brad Hoylman said after the law was passed.
Other measles outbreaks are ongoing in California, Pennsylvania, and Washington, according to the CDC.
The measles is incredibly contagious: the virus can live for two hours on surfaces outside the body, and 90% of unprotected people who are exposed will get the infection. Measles incubates in the body for about a week or two before prompting a fever, coughing, runny nose, and little red bumps that break out on a person’s face and body. In rare cases, measles complications can be deadly.
Anti-vaxxers are fueling the measles outbreak
As the number of measles cases continues to rise, many public-health experts are attributing the epidemic to anti-vaxxers. In Washington state, where one of the first outbreaks of the year broke out in January, 63 of the 73 reported measles cases were among people who did not receive the MMR vaccine. Both of the areas in New York state where measles is spreading have sizable Orthodox Jewish communities, which have been the targets of anti-vaccine propaganda.
According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a non-profit that opposes mandatory vaccinations, 17 states allow for philosophical exemptions from vaccines. These exemptions are granted to individuals who hold conscientious objections to one or more shots.
Those 17 states also allow for medical exemptions and religious exemptions, which are intended for people who hold a religious belief so strong that “if the state forced vaccination, it would be an infringement on their constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs.”
In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that eliminates personal and philosophical exemptions from the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (MMR) amid a growing measles outbreak in the state. But Washington still allows philosophical exemptions for most vaccines.
The following map breaks down vaccine-exemption rules across the US, using data from NVIC.
- Shayanne Gal/INSIDER
The 28 states with reported measles this year cases are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
Ten of those states – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Washington – allow for philosophical exemptions.
The other seven states with similar exemption rules are: Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Most other states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow for religious exemptions. California, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia are the only states that only permit exemptions for medical reasons.
Even if you do get vaccinated, you could still get sick
Receiving a vaccine does not guarantee measles immunity. A full course of the measles vaccine – which consists of two doses – is about 97% effective at stopping the measles, while a single dose is 93% effective.
However, vaccinations increase herd immunity, a scenario in which enough people get routine vaccines that it’s difficult for a virus to spread in a community. This offers protection for people who are unable to get vaccines for health reasons, like HIV or cancer.
Leah Rocketto contributed to an earlier version of this story.
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