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Florida Surgeon General’s Controversial Response to Measles Outbreak Raises Alarms

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Florida Surgeon General's Controversial Response to Measles Outbreak Raises Alarms

(CTN News) – As a Florida elementary school attempts to contain a growing measles outbreak, the state’s top health official is providing advice that contradicts science and may put unvaccinated children at risk of contracting one of the most contagious pathogens on the planet, clinicians and public health experts say.

In a letter to parents at a Fort Lauderdale-area school this week following six confirmed measles cases, Florida Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo did not urge parents to vaccinate their children or keep unvaccinated pupils home as a precaution.

Instead of adopting what he described as the “normal” recommendation that parents keep unvaccinated children home for up to 21 days — the incubation period for measles —, Ladapo claimed the state health agency “is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.”

Ladapo’s contentious move continues a trend of defying public health rules, notably regarding immunisations. Last month, he asked for a suspension to the use of mRNA coronavirus vaccinations, which the public health establishment condemned.


Rising Measles Outbreaks Linked to Vaccine Exemptions and Misinformation

According to Ben Hoffman, president of the American Academy of Paediatrics, Florida’s advise contradicts long-standing and widely accepted public health guidelines for measles, which can cause serious complications, including death.

“It runs counter to everything I have ever heard and everything that I have read,” he remarked. “It is contrary to our policy. It contradicts what the [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] would propose.”

Measles cases have been on the rise in recent years. So far in 2024, at least 26 cases have been recorded to the CDC from at least 12 states, more than doubling the number from this time last year.

In addition to the six confirmed cases at the Florida school, cases have also been reported in Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Experts believe the outbreaks are linked to increased parents seeking exemptions from childhood immunisations in recent years, owing to political opposition against coronavirus pandemic regulations and widespread misconceptions about vaccine safety.

In January, the CDC warned health practitioners to be on the lookout for new measles infections. Infected people are contagious for four days before and four days after the rash appears.

Because measles virus particles can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected individual has left the location, up to 90% of those without immunity will get the disease if exposed.

People who have been sick or have had the full two doses of the MMR vaccine are 98% protected and are extremely unlikely to get the disease. That is why public health authorities frequently recommend for vaccination during outbreaks.

“The reason why there is a measles outbreak in Florida schools is because too many parents have not had their children protected by the safe and effective measles vaccine,” said John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell Medical College.

“So why is that? It’s because anti-vaccine attitude in Florida stems from the top of the public health food chain, Joseph Ladapo.”

When asked for comment, the Florida health agency provided a link to Ladapo’s letter.

Ladapo’s refusal to use public health instruments mirrors conservative and libertarian efforts to undermine public health’s ability to limit diseases such as the extremely contagious measles.

The majority of the 85 children afflicted in Ohio’s measles outbreak, which began in late 2022, were old enough to receive vaccinations, but their parents opted not to, according to officials. In 2021, the state legislature removed health officials’ ability to order quarantine for someone suspected of possessing an infectious disease.

Ladapo’s letter to parents comes at a time when there is growing concern about the public health effects of anti-vaccine attitude, a long-standing issue that has resulted in lower child immunisation rates in parts of the United States.

According to federal data released last year, the number of kindergartners whose parents chose not to have at least one state-required childhood immunisation increased to its highest level yet during the 2022-2023 school year – 3 per cent.

According to Paul Offit, a paediatric infectious diseases expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Ladapo’s inability to promote immunisation puts children in danger.

“Is he trying to prove that measles isn’t a contagious disease when the data are clear that it is the most contagious vaccine-preventable disease, far more contagious than influenza or covid?” Offit wrote an email.

The measles virus is highly contagious, and cases spread quickly. Young children are particularly vulnerable because the first dose is not administered until they are 12 to 15 months old. The CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the second administered between the ages of four and six.

A decline in measles vaccination coverage below 95 percent can weaken herd immunity and allow a virus to spread more swiftly. Florida has a statewide immunisation coverage of 90.6%, although this does not identify areas with lower coverage.

According to Patsy Stinchfield, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a nurse practitioner in Minneapolis, if unvaccinated people exposed to the virus do not follow public health recommendations and stay home from school during the potentially contagious period, the outbreak will explode exponentially, posing a much greater community threat.

She has helped to contain three measles outbreaks, including the 2017 outbreak in Minnesota, which impacted 75 people, the majority of whom were unvaccinated and mostly youngsters.

Pediatric Experts Express Concerns Over Florida’s Measles Outbreak Response

According to the CDC, approximately one in every five unvaccinated people in the United States who catch measles are hospitalised. Pneumonia is the most prevalent cause of death from measles in young children, affecting up to one out of every twenty.

About one child in every 1,000 who has measles develops brain enlargement, which can cause convulsions and leave the infant deaf or intellectually disabled. For unvaccinated babies who catch measles, one in every 600 will develop a catastrophic neurological condition that can remain dormant for years.

Manatee Bay Elementary School, located about 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, has six confirmed measles cases, school officials announced this week.

During a school board meeting on Wednesday, Broward County Schools Superintendent Peter B. Licata announced that 33 of the school’s 1,067 pupils had not gotten the MMR vaccine.

A school district spokesperson stated that the district had held “four vaccination opportunities,” two at the school and two outside in the community.

According to Florida health officials, the first case was detected on Friday in a third-grade youngster who had no prior international travel history.

School officials addressed concerns to the Broward County School District, which stated that it follows state health department guidelines.

Arsi Mughal is a staff writer at CTN News, delivering insightful and engaging content on a wide range of topics. With a knack for clear and concise writing, he crafts articles that resonate with readers. Arsi's pieces are well-researched, informative, and presented in a straightforward manner, making complex subjects accessible to a broad audience. His writing style strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and casual approachability, ensuring an enjoyable reading experience.

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