In early April, a person in northern Indiana was diagnosed with the state’s first measles case of the year, making Indiana one of 21 states to report at least one case of measles at the time, and the numbers are only going up.
As of Aug. 15, 30 states had reported 1,203 measles cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s already the highest number of cases reported in the country since 1992. Measles was declared eradicated in 2000.
Why are measles making a comeback? The CDC says the disease is more likely to cause outbreaks in communities where not enough people are vaccinated. And it’s not just measles. More than a dozen cases of mumps — a disease that used to be common in children before a vaccine was developed — were reported at Indiana University in Bloomington in April.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a time to reiterate the importance of being vaccinated and dispel myths about vaccinations.
Dr. Cameual Wright, medical director for CareSource, said it’s concerning to see these cases of diseases that had been practically eliminated. CDC data from 2018 showed the percentage of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled over the last 17 years, and adults are less likely than children and adolescents to get vaccinated.
Wright said there are three common misconceptions about vaccines that may be driving this trend: People think vaccines aren’t well studied, that there are dangerous chemicals in vaccines and that getting multiple vaccines may overload the immune system.
In reality, Wright said, researchers have “every reason to believe they’re both effective and safe.” When it comes to additives, thiomersal (a mercury derivative) is used in multi-dose vaccines, and a small amount hasn’t been linked to negative health outcomes. As for the immune system, Wright noted it is fighting off diseases “all the time.”
There could also be an issue where people assume others around them have been vaccinated, so they feel like they don’t have to do it. They’re referring to herd immunity, where enough people are vaccinated that even those who haven’t been immunized are still protected because the disease doesn’t spread.
“People don’t understand the concept of herd immunity,” Wright said. “There are some people who do feel like it’s other’s responsibility and that they don’t really have to worry about that.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show vaccination rates for Black and white children and adolescents are basically the same, including for measles, mumps and rubella — that’s the MMR vaccine. For adults, though, Black Americans are immunized at a lower rate than white Americans.
Jarnell Burks-Craig, president of Minority Health Coalition of Marion County, said this has to do with a health insurance disparity, especially with congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump taking steps to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
“I think it’s based upon access and the cost of these health plans,” Burks-Craig said “… Because of a drop in enrollees, the price is going up, and immunization might not be part of the plans.”
The United States Census Bureau estimates that 14.1% of people under 65 years old in Indianapolis did not have health insurance in 2018. That was nearly four percentage points higher than the national average.
For those who are eligible for Medicaid, don’t have insurance, or of if their insurance doesn’t cover vaccinations, the Indiana State Department of Health offers free vaccines for children and adults. The Vaccines for Children program is a federal program where states get vaccines from the CDC and distribute them to physicians, community health centers and health clinics. The state lists 118 providers in Marion County. The state also partners with providers for adults. A list of providers is at in.gov.
Dave McCormick, immunization division director for the department, said the state delivered 388,796 vaccines to children in Indiana last year and 50,611 to adults. The program includes all vaccines recommended by the CDC.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.