Measles, rubella and diphtheria are communicable diseases many Americans just don’t worry about today, and why would we? Federal health officials said in 2000 measles had been eradicated in the U.S. They said the same about rubella in 2004, and diphtheria in 2012.

But some vaccine- preventable maladies have made a comeback. As childhood immunization rates fall across the country and cases grow, health officials worry the U.S. could lose its eradication status, setting disease control back decades and imperiling public health.

A measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio, which began in November, has sickened 82 children as of Tuesday. At least 32 have been hospitalized, the Washington Post reports, and some were so ill they required intensive care.

Indiana has seen a 10% drop in immunization rates for measles, mumps and chickenpox over the past two years, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said in July. And more than a third of the state’s youngest children are behind on routine vaccinations, the Indiana Department of Health reports.

This year, just 58% of Hoosier children between 19 months and 35 months old had completed what is known as the 4:3:1:3:3:1:4 immunization series, which prevents polio, measles, hepatitis and chickenpox, the state health department reports. The fully vaccinated rate was 70% two years ago.

“There were some drops, at least some slowing down, of the vaccination rates that we were seeing prior to COVID-19,” Thomas Duszynski, director of epidemiology education and a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University, told The Journal Gazette. “But then when COVID-19 came on and things started to shut down, it sort of accelerated that drop in vaccination rates for the childhood immunizations.

“The second thing that I think is going on, and we really saw this coming hard with the pandemic, was the politicization of vaccines itself,” he continued. “It became a political issue around the COVID vaccine, and that now has been translated into other vaccinations, as well.”

Immunization data for Hoosier students entering school this academic year won’t be available until February, the state health department says. But information from the 2021-22 school year reveals northeast Indiana had some of the lowest rates in the state.

Coming in below the state average of 58% completion were LaGrange County at 35%, Adams (50%), Kosciusko (56%) and Steuben (57%). Allen County met the state average at 58%. One-third of LaGrange’s population is Amish, and the state offers vaccination exemptions for medical, philosophical or religious reasons.

Krista Stockman, director of communications and marketing at Fort Wayne Community Schools, told The Journal Gazette the district had 1,494 exemptions on file at the start of the 2022-23 school year, representing 4.7% of the student population.

If you have questions about the efficacy of childhood vaccinations, Duszynski encourages having a talk with your primary care provider.

“Those are the people that will be happy to sit down and have a conversation with you about not only the dangers of the measles disease, but the benefits of being vaccinated in terms of overall health, avoiding complications from the disease, and being able to stay in school.”

Rubella was a common and widespread infection in the U.S. prior to the vaccination program starting in 1969. During the last major rubella epidemic, from 1964 to 1965, an estimated 12.5 million Americans contracted the disease, 11,000 pregnant women lost their babies and 2,100 newborns died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before 1963, when the U.S. began vaccinating for measles, 400 to 500 Americans died every year, and prior to the introduction of the mumps vaccine 55 years ago, about 186,000 Americans developed the disease annually.

For the health of your family and the safety of your community, don’t ignore immunizations and boosters.

© Copyright (c) 2022 The Journal Gazette.


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