• Nine million children are susceptible to catching measles, experts warn
  • Experts warn they are at risk because they haven’t had their MMR jabs
  • Measles is one of the most contagious diseases, and can spread quickly
  • 94% of children are immune but if that figure drops outbreaks are likely 

Lizzie Parry For Dailymail.com

One in eight children in the US are at risk of catching measles because of gaps in vaccinations rates, experts have warned.

Those who are not vaccinated or who are under-vaccinated, are highly susceptible to becoming sick with the highly contagious illness.

Measles is caught through direct contact, and via droplets that can spread through the air.

It is one of the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases, meaning to prevent epidemics, it is necessary to maintain high levels of immunity. 

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Experts have warned nine million children in the US are at risk of measles - the equivalent of one in eight (file image posed by a model)

Experts have warned nine million children in the US are at risk of measles – the equivalent of one in eight (file image posed by a model)

But, a new analysis of national vaccination rates, presented at ID Week in San Diego, has revealed nine million children, from infants to 17-year-olds are susceptible to catching measles.

The disease can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and in extreme cases death.  

Experts warn these children are at risk because they haven’t received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, or have only received one of the two doses.

Some children are vulnerable because they can’t receive the vaccine for medical reasons, or are not yet old enough to be vaccinated.

Others though, are not vaccinated because their parents delay vaccination or opt out for religious or personal reasons. 

The findings are significant because in their analysis, researchers from Emory University found the percentage of children immune to measles is very close to the range of 92 to 94 per cent.

Below this threshold, measles outbreaks are possible and could lead to widespread illness.

Measles is not currently widespread thanks to herd immunity, meaning the majority of people have been vaccinated.

A new analysis of national vaccination rates has found children are at risk because they haven't had their MMR jabs (file image posed by model)

A new analysis of national vaccination rates has found children are at risk because they haven’t had their MMR jabs (file image posed by model)

This ensures the number of people vulnerable to infection is small and helps protect those who can’t be vaccinated by preventing their exposure to the virus. 

Researchers also found that nearly one in four children aged three or younger are at risk, and that nearly five per cent of 17-year-olds had not received any doses of the vaccine.

Dr Robert Bednarczyk, lead author of the study, said: ‘Although we eliminated continuous measles transmission in the US about 15 years ago thanks to the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine and robust vaccination rates, these study results show that we can’t get complacent.

‘While we currently have overall immunity in the population that should prevent sustained measles transmission, if the virus is introduced, there is the potential for large outbreaks.

‘This is because there are clusters of unvaccinated children in some communities, which could allow a large outbreak to occur with spread to similar communities.’ 

It is recommended that all children receive two doses of measles-containing vaccines at the relevant ages, he said.

He noted the biggest concern is children who haven’t received any doses for a variety of reasons, including lack of access, being unaware of the need for vaccines and being opposed to vaccines.

Furthermore, doctors need to ensure those who received only one dose receive a second, at the recommended age. 

The MMR vaccine is given to children in two doses, the first at 12 to 15 months and the second at four to six years old. 

While children are required to receive the MMR vaccine before attending school, some are exempt because they have a medical issue, such as an immune disorder or cancer. 

The measles is a weakened live virus, and while it does not cause disease, it is not recommended for those whose immune systems are compromised.

Further, most states offer exemptions for religious or personal reasons – three states, most recently California, do not offer non-medical exemptions.

Measles, pictiured, is caught through direct contact, and via droplets that can spread through the air. It is one of the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases, meaning to prevent epidemics, it is necessary to maintain high levels of immunity. The disease can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and in extreme cases death

Measles, pictiured, is caught through direct contact, and via droplets that can spread through the air. It is one of the most contagious of the vaccine-preventable diseases, meaning to prevent epidemics, it is necessary to maintain high levels of immunity. The disease can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and in extreme cases death

In their analysis, researchers determined that 12.5 per cent of all children – 8.7 million – were not fully protected by vaccination and therefore were susceptible to measles, and that 24.7 per cent of children age three or younger are at risk. 

Among 17-year-olds, 4.6 per cent had received no doses of MMR. 

If the percentage of vaccinated children drops to just 98 per cent of current levels, researchers estimate that 14.2 per cent of children – one in seven – would be vulnerable to measles.

Dr Bednarczyk said: ‘We know some parents have concerns about vaccines and may want to avoid or delay vaccination, or follow an alternative schedule than the one recommended because they’re concerned about the safety of the vaccine.

‘In fact, the vaccine is very safe, while not vaccinating is highly risky, leaving their children – and others – vulnerable to a serious illness that can cause a large number of complications. 

‘Currently, these children are protected because of the high vaccine coverage of the population, but that will change if we begin having more outbreaks and the percentage of children vaccinated declines.’

 

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