(CNN/Gray News) - A director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s a “reasonable chance” that the U.S. will lose its measles elimination status in October because of ongoing outbreaks in New York.
On Dec. 11, 2000, then-President Bill Clinton told Americans that measles, mumps and rubella cases were at an all-time low.
They were so low at the time that the World Health Organization declared measles eliminated in the United States. It was hailed as one of the biggest public health achievements in the nation's history.
Now, a director at the CDC says the U.S. could lose that elimination status as early as Oct. 1.
"Losing the elimination status of measles is an embarrassment. Public health will be embarrassed. It's like having a black eye," said Dr. William Schaffner, with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a longtime adviser to the CDC on vaccine issues.
Measles returned to the country in part because a community of some Orthodox Jews in New York refuse to vaccinate their children. Outbreaks among them have been going on for nearly a year.
The outbreaks started on Sept. 30, 2018, and caused more than 600 cases of measles. An outbreak in nearby Rockland County, New York caused more than 300 cases.
Nearly 30 other states have had measles outbreaks in the past 12 months, but those were much more short-lived than the ones in New York.
“If that continues to the one year cutoff point - bang! They take back the elimination card,” Schaffner said.
That can cause trouble around the globe, leading to a deadly spread of the disease. Already, tens of thousands of people, mostly young children, die of measles each year globally.
“I’m concerned it will reduce the motivation of other ministers of health around the world in trying to eliminate measles in their counties because they’ll say, ‘Gee, if the U.S. couldn’t maintain it, why should we work so hard on this?’” Schaffner said.
Doctors hope once the current outbreak ends, the CDC and others will do a better job of combating anti-vaccine propaganda on social media that encourage parents to ignore science and could end up costing the U.S. a great public health achievement.
The CDC says majority of people who contract measles are unvaccinated.
Because measles is still common in many parts of the world, travelers with the disease can bring it into the U.S. When it reaches a community that’s largely unvaccinated, measles spreads.