Wisconsin Has 50,000 Unvaccinated Kids Amid Worst Measles Outbreak In 27 Years

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 
George Frey/Getty

Immunization rates in 72 Wisconsin counties were below 80 percent

As we continue to hear about measles outbreaks popping up in U.S. cities, Wisconsin parents, teachers, and faculty are preparing for what could be a major vulnerability in their school systems as close to 50,000 students are returning to school this year with waivers exempting them from vaccinations.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. is experiencing its largest measles outbreak in 27 years with 1,234 cases reported as of August 29 across 31 states. This was up 19 cases from the previous week. Measles was considered eliminated from this country in 2000, but with the anti-vaxx movement taking center stage in recent years, the numbers of cases have increased at an alarming rate.

Recent county-by-county immunization rates measured the percentages of five and six-year-olds who have received at least two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and found not a single county reached the 92 percent threshold that health officials say is required for herd immunity, leaving kids susceptible to the disease, the Journal Sentinel reports. Forty of the 72 counties had immunization rates below 80 percent.

So, why the drop in Wisconsin students? It seems families are opting out of vaccinations required to attend school by using a “personal conviction” waiver, which can be used to cover both religious exemptions and family beliefs about vaccinations, the Post Cresent reported earlier this year. Wisconsin is one of only 18 states to allow personal conviction waivers and though the use of waivers for medical reasons have stayed the same, the use of these “personal conviction” waivers has risen sharply.

Though a measles outbreak has yet to hit the state, many are concerned that with immunization rates this low, it’s only a matter of time. “I would not be surprised at all if I woke up tomorrow to hear that the measles outbreak had reached Wisconsin. Not surprised at all,” said Malia Jones, an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh proposed legislation in May that would eliminate the personal exemption from immunizations. “Obviously alarm bells should be going off that we’re below the threshold for herd immunity and more importantly it’s trending the wrong way,” he said.

Many parents still fear that the MMR vaccine can lead to autism, a theory that has been debunked by scientists and researchers on multiple occasions. The CDC has also called this out specifically for parents concerned about giving their child the vaccinations, stating that “getting the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”

It remains to be seen if and when an outbreak will occur in Wisconsin, but each time a case of measles is confirmed, health officials would have to track down all of the people who that person had been in contact with and infected children could be quarantined for up to 21 days.

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