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Minnesota's Measles Outbreak Underscores US Vaccine Uptake Issue: Public Health Watch Report

SEP 06, 2017 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
Still, the Minnesota outbreak is viewed by many in the public health community as a proverbial canary in a coal mine, and steps have been taken to taken to address the issue within at-risk communities. In Minnesota, for example, according to a report in The Washington Post, health officials have engaged religious leaders in the Somali-American community there in efforts to educate parents on the importance of the MMR vaccine in overall child health. Since the onset of the outbreak in April, figures suggest that vaccine uptake has more than tripled over where it was during the spring and summer of 2016.

And in California, where Senate Bill 277 (SB277) was passed in 2015 to eliminate the so-called “personal-belief exemption” from the state’s school-entry vaccination requirements for the 2016-2017 school year (and beyond), vaccination rates among incoming kindergartners have climbed to 97.3%, from a low of 92.6% in the fall of 2014. According to an analysis published on September 5, 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), although the number of medical exemptions from vaccination (which are still allowed under the law) filed with schools in the Golden State tripled from 2015, when SB277 was passed, to 2016, the overall number of vaccination exemptions filed by parents on behalf of their children dropped by roughly 230% over the same period. As a compromise, SB277 does grant physicians greater leeway in providing parents with medical exemptions from vaccination for their children; however, based on the JAMA analysis, parents and physicians don’t seem to be abusing this aspect of the provision—at least not yet.

Does this mean that the public debate over the issue of pediatric vaccination is drawing to a close? Unfortunately, far from it. Overall, MMR vaccination rates in the United States have held steady at around 92% for several years now, and until we achieve post-SB277 levels nationally, the only real question is when—not if—we will have another outbreak of measles and/or mumps.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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