State Vaccination Exemptions Could Lead to Kentucky Measles Cases

Feb 3, 2015

Measles
Credit Cynthia Goldsmith / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As the number of measles cases across the nation grows, a vaccination exemption for Kentucky students could allow for cases to emerge in the Commonwealth.

The highly contagious viral disease is especially susceptible to children resulting in rashes and pink eye and could lead to more serious illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea.

A recent outbreak is believed to have started at a Disneyland theme park in southern California, but now 13 other states are reporting cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 102 measles cases have been reported in 14 states, more than half of those were in California. No cases have yet been reported in Kentucky or Tennessee.

Kentucky Director of Health Planning Dr. Kraig Humbaugh says the majority of the people that contract the virus each year in the U.S. are unvaccinated. Every state requires children entering public or private schools and day cares to receive a vaccination before entering. However, 48 states have clauses for exemption.

"Children that attend those schools and parents who have a religious exemption or a medical reason why the child should not be vaccinated, they can get exemptions based on those grounds, but those are the only two grounds that qualify for an exemption," said Humbaugh.

The virus is still common in many parts of the world including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, but cases in the US are relatively low. The US did experience a record number of measles cases in 2014 with 644 cases from 27 states, which the CDC attributes that spike to outbreaks in unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. 

Humbaugh says the chance of an outbreak in Kentucky is very low but the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) is the best defense against stemming a child’s susceptibility.

“The measles vaccine is very effective," said Humbaugh. "The majority of people who are now involved or associated with the outbreak of measles that’s going on primarily in western states in the US, were not vaccinated, so they're susceptible. In order to not be susceptible, people either need to be protected, through vaccinations or had naturally occurring measles.”  

Humbaugh says Kentucky has a 89.5 percent measles vaccination rate for children under 35 months, but that’s below the 91 percent national rate.