According to a new study, a mere 5 percent decline in measles vaccination rates could as much as triple the number of kids who get infected with the virus in the United States. That number of kids who could get measles if the vaccination rate declines — by such a small percentage — is terrifying, and if the rate of vaccination dropped to even 88 percent of children covered, it could result in 150 additional measles cases every year.
According to the results of the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, about 93 percent of children from ages 2 to 11 years old get the measles vaccine nationwide. The drop to 88 percent would mean an increase in the number of measles cases each year, which is bad news all around.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Baylor College of Medicine found that, additionally, just a small reduction in childhood measles vaccinations in the U.S. would lead to a "disproportionately large" increase in not only measles cases, but in related public health costs as well.
A co-author of the study, Nathan Lo of Stanford University School of Medicine in California, told AOL.com of the results:
We found that small declines in vaccine coverage can really reduce the 'herd immunity' effect and result in more frequent and larger outbreaks of measles.
According to Reuters, Lo said that since measles spreads easily, about 95 percent of people have to be vaccinated against it to achieve herd immunity. Right now, 93 percent of children aged 2 to 11 in the United States are vaccinated, so we haven't even reached that marker, and if the rate dropped even slightly, the results could be devastating.
The study looked at increasing numbers of parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children, and what they could mean for future outbreaks of the measles virus. Lo told Reuters Health:
Given increasing parental decisions to not vaccinate their children, we wanted to understand the effect of small reductions in vaccine coverage on overall measles cases.
And they found that even that "small reduction" made a big impact on the number of cases of measles.
Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told WebMD that measles, "is the first virus to come back when you start seeing fraying in what we call the phenomenon of 'herd immunity,' which is when enough of the population is immunized to keep the rest of the population safe."
And the virus is no joke. According to WebMD, measles is highly contagious, and can cause a high fever, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and a bad cough. It can also make the lymph nodes in your neck swell, and lead to diarrhea and red, sore eyes. Eventually, people suffering from measles get red spots inside their mouths, and a rash that covers the body. It's definitely not a good time, and it's almost completely preventable if enough people get vaccinated.
The problem is, not enough people are getting the vaccines, or letting their kids do so. And the authors of the study, according to Newsweek, have a simple solution: cut back on vaccine exemptions. They wrote:
We predict that removal of nonmedical (e.g., personal belief) vaccine exemptions for childhood vaccination will mitigate this trend and substantially reduce measles and other infectious diseases in the United States.
According to Newsweek, several small outbreaks of measles have occurred in parts of the U.S. recently. A large outbreak back in 2015 in California, for example, spread to Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah. And an article in NPR in April reported that, even then, it seemed like 2017 was going to be a bad year for measles around the world.
Between the increasing rates worldwide and this warning about increased rates of measles in children in the United States if vaccination rates drop even slightly, shouldn't we do all we can to prevent a rising number of cases, here or anywhere else?