Measles Cases Hit Highest Level In U.S. In 25 Years

Thanks largely to anti-vaccination propaganda, the Centers for Disease Control reports that measles cases in the U.S. are at a level unseen in a quarter century.

In yet another sign of the continuing danger posed by the anti-vaccination movement and its propagandists, the Center for Disease Control has reported that measles cases in the United States have reached their highest level in 25 years:

There have been more measles cases in the United States the first five months of 2019 than there were in all of 1992, when the last large outbreak occurred, federal health officials said on Thursday, in part because of the spread of misinformation about vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that there had been 971 known cases of measles in the United States so far this year.

That is eight more cases than in 1992, the previous high since vaccines became widely used, when 963 cases were reported in the United States all year. And it is a sharp jump from last year, when just 372 cases were reported, the center said. (Earlier Thursday, the C.D.C. mistakenly said that the previous high was in 1994.)

“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., said in a statement.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism,” he added. “The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents.”

The center pointed to a continuing outbreak in New York City and Rockland County, N.Y., as posing a particular public health threat.

There had been 500 confirmed cases of measles in New York City since September 2018 as of May 29, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Thursday. Rockland County officials said 254 cases of measles had been reported there as of May 28.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause serious respiratory symptoms, fever and rash, as well as permanent deafness or encephalitis in severe cases, according to the C.D.C.

The measles vaccine, which was first licensed in 1963 , is extremely safe and effective and causes no side effects in a majority of cases. Small numbers of people may experience a mild fever, rash, soreness or swelling after receiving the vaccine, and adults and teenagers may feel soreness or stiffness, according to the C.D.C.

This report from the C.D.C. is just the latest example of the resurgence of a disease that had been officially declared as eliminated as an endemic disease in the United States in 2000. This did not mean that there were no measles cases in the United States, of course, but that the country had gone at least a year without what the C.D.C. refers to as “continuous disease transmission.” Since that declaration, there have been smaller outbreaks reported in isolated parts of the country, but there was no indication of a more widespread problem.

All of that changed in the past several years and this is just one of many recent reports we’ve seen regarding the reemergence of measles as a public health threat around the world and in the United States and Europe, where authorities had been getting ready to declare the disease “eradicated.” Last year, for example, we learned that measles cases were raging in many parts of Europe where the disease had previously believed to have been nearly eradicated. In 2013 it was reported that the number of measles cases in the United States had hit a 17-year high. A year later, the number of cases was continuing to rise, hitting a 20-year-high by the summer of 2014. Then, in the summer of 2015, the United States recorded its first death as a result of measles in more than a decade. Finally, late last year it was reported that measles cases had surged worldwide in 2017, the most recent year for which there is complete data. Most recently, it was reported by the C.D.C. that measles cases in the United States had surged in the first two months of the year.

As the report above indicates, one of the main reasons that these diseases are making a come back is due to the fact that the anti-vaccination movement continues to have an impact on the decisions that parents are making for their children. There have, of course, always been a fringe crowd of people who questioned the value of vaccines, objected to them for religious reasons, or objected to them because of misinformation and lies that have spread on the Internet faster than they can be debunked by actual medical professionals. However the number of people who believed these things were so small that they didn’t have much of an impact on the country as a whole. Thanks to a movement motivated by pseudo-science and conspiracy theories, though, anti-vaccination propaganda remains prevalent and, thanks to the Internet, easy to spread.

To a large degree, of course, this all started with the now discredited theory regarding a link between childhood vaccines and autism. This claim traces its origins back to a paper that was published in 1998 in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. That report’s principal author, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine commonly given as part of the regular childhood vaccination schedule. While public health officials and experts, drug companies, and many epidemiologists pushed back on that report, for the better part of a decade it stood relatively unchallenged as the definitive word on the issue and quite obviously helped to feed parent’s fears. Wakefield’s study led to anti-vaccination movements that were made popular by celebrities in the United States and elsewhere, as well as by medical cranks eager to hitch their stars to anything halfway credible.

Slowly but surely, though, Wakefield’s study came to be questioned by the medical community as a whole and, in 2010, Lancet eventually formally withdrew the report. Roughly a year later, it was revealed that the original study that formed the basis for the report was fraudulent. Most importantly, in the entire 17 year period since Wakefield’s study, no other researcher has ever been able to duplicate his purported results or to find any statistically significant correlation between autism and childhood vaccinations. In 2015, a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association definitively found no evidence of a link between autism and childhood vaccination. This conclusion was verified recently by another study that found no discernable link between vaccines and autism.  Despite all of this, the anti-vaccination movement, like many other ideas that are spread on the Internet, continues to exist and it continues to have an impact on public health. Despite this, the damage was done.

The fact that the claims of a link between vaccination and autism had been debunked, though, has not prevented the myth from continuing to spread. In no small part, the continued spread of these dangerous lies can be laid at the feet of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, and more recently The Big Bang Theory’s Miyam Bialik and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. Even Donald Trump got into the act before becoming a candidate for President, using his Twitter account to spread the myths of the anti-vaccine movement. and it is apparently something he still believes. The platform that celebrity gives people like this, along with how easy it is to share “information” that isn’t necessarily true via Email, Twitter, Facebook and the light makes combating anti-vaccine propaganda difficult at times, especially when you run up against parents who truly seem to believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests by refusing to have them vaccinated.

It’s in this context that this resurgence in measles cases is taking place. What is both remarkable and frustrating is the fact that so many people can be so ignorant in an age when our knowledge of science and medicine is so much more advanced than it was when vaccination first became widespread. Back then, people were grateful for something that could save their children from the scourge of deadly or debilitating diseases. Today, we actually have people rejecting vaccination based on something a brainless celebrity said. This is progress?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Teve says:
  2. Andrew says:

    As the late, great George Carlin said:

    “Think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of ’em are stupider than that.”

    “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

    And now there are reports of parents forcing their autistic kids to drink bleach. As a cure…

    These people are only proving Darwinism correct. (And no that’s not an Essential Oil, for any anti-vaccine person here that may not understand that reference. You ignorant twats.)

  3. grumpy realist says:

    I had an uncle who ended up with brain damage at the age of 6 due to measles and was institutionalised for the rest of his life. My father had a bum leg for most of his life due to polio. My mother had side effects from German measles. And that’s just in my immediate family.

    Round all the anti-vaxxers up, shove them into one state with a big barbed-wire fence around them, and expose them to as many childhood diseases as possible. Maybe if they lose 10 out of 12 children they’ll start appreciating modern medicine.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    I suppose we should be grateful that smallpox actually HAS been eliminated from the general population.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I read this yestermorn: Measles for the One Percent Vaccines, Waldorf schools, and the problem with liberal Luddites.

    Across the country, in every state, great numbers of these specially nurtured children remain unvaccinated. Apart from certain religious or ethnic groups particular to certain geographic regions — pockets of the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn and Rockland, say, or pockets of the survivalist right — Waldorf kids have some of the lowest vaccination rates in America. In California, Waldorf schools, along with home schools, have some of the lowest vaccination rates — many as low as 20 or 30 percent, and some as low as 7 percent. The Brooklyn Waldorf school has the ninth-lowest vaccination rate in Kings County, and in Manhattan, the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school is No. 7. At the start of the school year in 2018, Green Meadow had the third-lowest vaccination rate in Rockland County after two yeshivas in Monsey. “All the Waldorf schools are horrible,” says Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “There are several in Texas I would not consider safe for children.”
    How and when did liberal parents travel so far from Dr. Spock? The measles vaccine was approved in 1963, six years before Americans landed on the Moon, at a moment when technological progress was a joyride Americans took en masse. But in one generation, the kids of those Spock-raised kids have seemingly lost faith in progress and in the wisdom of the conventional wisdom, regarding every figure along that formerly congenial hierarchy — the scientists, the pharmaceutical companies, the government approvers, the politicians, even the wise and gentle pediatricians — as an object of suspicion and a plausible agent of the systemic harm that is being done, unconscionably, to kids. And in place of faith in experts, they have developed an alternative parenting culture built on anxiety about all the ills that might befall children (sickness, damage, death) and a sense that they, and only they, know how to protect the specialness, and purity, of their kids. To preserve that sanctity, parents have to begin to regard the material world — everything from movies to memes to vaccines — as contaminating. In some circles, at least, liberal American parents have evolved from emulating the Jetsons to emulating the Amish in one generation, always with the insistence that they’re doing it for the kids.

    And this anecdote is perfect:

    J.R., who is blonde and has a serene, unlined face, remembers the moment during her son’s infancy when when her pediatrician brought up the subject of shots. “Basically, the pediatrician looked down at the chart and said, ‘Okay, he’s this age, so it’s time for this.’ And I said, ‘Where’s the insert on the medicine? I’d like to see it before we do any intervention.’ And when I saw, as a new mother, that a side effect is possibly death, that was it for me.”

    At the core of vaccine refusal is a risk analysis, one that public-health researchers say is flawed. Vaccines are estimated to cause injuries to about one in every 4.5 million who receive them, but death from contracting a case of wild measles is about one in a thousand and risk of hospitalization is much higher. J.R. concedes it was an emotional time — “I was breastfeeding. I was full of hormones” — but she also says that her whole life, she’s trusted her gut. “I just go based on what I believe. We’re all seed of God. We’re all stardust. My instinct is a guiding force.”

    It’s a long read but it becomes obvious that the Waldorf Schools are a cult. That’s what we are fighting. In a world growing ever more complex, otherwise intelligent people are retreating to cults that promise all the answers because of fear.

  6. CSK says:

    The measles nearly killed my sister. As soon as the vaccine was made available, we got it.

  7. Dave Schuler says:


    I’m glad you mentioned that, Teve, although my impression was that Russian trolls engaged in a disinformation campaign intended to foment discord. It’s working.

    I guess we should at least be grateful that no one has died. We need to find better ways of dealing with issues like this. Measles will not be the last disease people will refuse take measures to prevent nor the most deadly. We should maintain as much freedom of action as can be allowed but we need ways of mediating the risks to others that freedom poses. I’m not sure how to cope with it.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    If the law understood probability and statistics, Andrew Wakefield could be convicted of many counts of manslaughter (or whatever is the equivalent crime in the jurisdiction where he lives).