A child in the Philippines suffering from measles
Alejandro Ernesto/picture alliance via Getty

The group said earlier this year that “vaccine hesitancy” was one of the biggest threats to global health

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April 16, 2019 01:47 PM

There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Measles cases worldwide are up by 300 percent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same time period last year, based on preliminary data, the World Health Organization says.

This new data “indicates a clear trend” of rising rates of infection, the organization said in a report released Monday, which comes as several countries are experiencing outbreaks.

While there are continued outbreaks in countries with low vaccination rates —the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine — they are also occurring in countries where the disease was thought to be eradicated, thanks to the measles vaccine. Currently, the United States, Israel, Thailand and Tunisia are all experiencing measles outbreaks due largely to communities where people have resisted vaccinations, typically due to misinformation or religious beliefs.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization named “vaccine hesitancy” — the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability” — as one of the biggest threats to global health in 2019. Thanks to the measles vaccine, 2 to 3 million deaths are prevented each year, WHO said, but that number could be much higher.

“A further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved,” the group said.

Cases of the measles in the U.S. are now at a 5-year high. As of April 11, there have been a reported 555 measles cases in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the most since 2014.

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The CDC says that there are currently outbreaks of the measles in several parts of the U.S., including the Pacific Northwest, Michigan and New York City. They believe the outbreaks are due to people traveling to other countries with significant outbreaks, including Israel, the Philippines and Ukraine, and then coming back to the U.S. and infecting people in areas with low vaccination rates, particularly Orthodox Jewish communities.

Though measles were considered eradicated in the U.S. as of 2000 thanks to the vaccine, people are choosing for themselves or their children to go unvaccinated. This is partially due to the spread of misinformation about the vaccine, which has led parents to opt out of giving children the life-saving protections.

Several U.S. politicians are taking steps to slow down the spread of measles. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9, and said that unvaccinated people must get the vaccine or be subject to a fine. In Rockland County, New York, another area with a major outbreak, the county executive instituted a ban that disallowed any unvaccinated minors from public areas.

“Responding to measles requires a range of approaches to ensure all children get their vaccines on time, with particular attention to access, quality and affordability of primary care services,” WHO said in their report. “It will also take effective public-facing communication and engagement on the critical importance of vaccination, and the dangers of the diseases they prevent.”

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