Starting Wednesday, the United States could lose its measles elimination status. What does that mean for the country and for Idaho?
In 2000, the World Health Organization said measles had been eliminated in the U.S. and the only new cases came from outside the country. But Wednesday marks one year of continuous clusters of outbreaks around the country. That means any new cases of the disease will cause the U.S. to lose that elimination status.
Dr. Peter Hotez says that’s due to a drop in vaccination rates. He’s the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He has identified at least 100 counties nationwide where a high percentage of kids in kindergarten are not being vaccinated.
“One of the worst states in the country according to our estimates is the state of Idaho," Hotez says. "So Idaho is one of the worst-performing states in terms of many counties where large numbers of kids are not getting vaccinated."
He doesn’t know why this is happening, but Idaho allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for personal, religious or medical reasons.
Dr. Hotez says Camas, Bonner, Valley, Custer, Idaho, Boise, Kootenai and Boundary counties each had over 15% of kindergarten kids not getting their vaccines.
But overall in Idaho in 2018, about 94% of kindergarten kids in public school had been vaccinated for measles. Dr. Christine Hahn is the state medical director with Idaho Health and Welfare. She says while that’s good news, those areas where the rate is lower worry her.
“It is these small pockets sometimes of whether its religious communities, whether it’s just people against vaccines for different reasons, that’s where you have the possibilities of large outbreaks starting because you have these unimmunized groups,” says Hahn.
Idaho had two cases of measles this year in Latah County. Those were the first cases in the Gem State since 2001.
Dr. Hahn says if the U.S. does lose its status, there won’t be much change in Idaho. She says Health and Welfare will continue to work to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
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