Measles Outbreak at Disneyland Stresses Vaccine’s Importance

Extensive media reports about January’s measles outbreak that began at California’s Disneyland further underscore the need to urge parents to vaccinate their children to protect everyone against the resurgence of these potentially serious but preventable infectious diseases.

As of late January, 59 rubeola cases had been confirmed among California residents since late December; health officials have traced the source of most cases to an exposure at Disneyland. The infected Californians included at least 5 park employees and a student at nearby Huntington Beach High School. In addition, 9 cases have been reported outside of California: one in Mexico, 3 in Utah, 2 in Washington, and one each in Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon.

In response to the outbreak, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on January 23 released a statement urging parents to have their children vaccinated to protect against the spread of measles.

“A family vacation to an amusement park—or a trip to the grocery store, a football game or school—should not result in children becoming sickened by an almost 100 percent preventable disease,” AAP executive director Errol R. Alden, MD, said in the statement. “We are fortunate to have an incredibly effective tool that can prevent our children from suffering,” Alden said of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. “That is so rare in medicine.”

The MMR vaccine is among the major public health triumphs of the past 50 years. The high rate of U.S. measles vaccination had virtually eliminated indigenous transmission of the virus. Nevertheless, measles cases have been increasing over the past decade; in 2014, 635 U.S. residents had confirmed measles infection—more than had been infected in the 4 preceding years combined.

Because most parents of young children in United States were born in the postvaccine era and have no experience with the serious potential of the illness, and because many still believe erroneously that vaccinations are linked to autism or other conditions, a significant number of parents choose not to have their children vaccinated against preventable childhood illnesses.

Yvonne Maldonado, MD, vice chair of the AAP’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, said in the academy’s statement that delaying vaccination not only leaves children vulnerable to measles when it is most dangerous to their development but also affects the entire community.

“We see measles spreading most rapidly in communities with higher rates of delayed or missed vaccinations. Declining vaccination for your child puts other children at risk, including infants who are too young to be vaccinated, and children who are especially vulnerable due to certain medications they’re taking,” Maldonado said. Thus it is critically important for pediatricians to emphasize the seriousness of measles with parents and to work toward maintaining high MMR vaccination coverage among U.S. preschool and school-aged children.

—Michael Gerchufsky, ELS, CMPP

Managing Editor