Small measles outbreak in South Florida has health experts on alert

A small measles outbreak in a South Florida elementary school has health experts statewide on alert and urging parents to make sure their children are up-to-date on their vaccines.

The state has confirmed six cases of measles at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Broward County. Florida is now one of a dozen states reporting measles cases in the U.S.

A 95 percent vaccination rate for measles is needed to achieve herd immunity, which is when spread of a virus becomes highly unlikely. 

According to the CDC, about 91 percent of Florida kindergartners had received both doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, which includes measles and is required for public school students, although certain exemptions are allowed.

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"A lot of the states now are seeing, new vaccination rates in the children in the high 60's, which means that we've got an awful lot of susceptible kids that are out there," said USF Health Dr. Thomas Unnasch. "You're actually starting to see the effects of the anti-vax movement and the fact that a lot of our children are no longer getting vaccinated for measles."

The Florida Department of Health put out an alert about the measles cases this week, emphasizing how contagious the virus is, but Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo stopped short of urging parents to vaccinate their children.

"Due to the high immunity rate in the community, as well as the burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school, DOH is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance. This recommendation may change as epidemiological investigations continue," Ladapo wrote.

According to the health department, the MMR vaccine is 98 percent effective. Ninety percent of people without immunity will contract the virus if exposed, the Ladapo said.

Doctors told FOX 13 the measles vaccine was proven safe and effective decades ago and two MMR doses can offer a lifetime of protection.

"When you get [measles] in your 20s, it's a much more serious infection than it is when you say, let's say, five years old," Unnasch said.

The vaccine rate in Hillsborough County Schools, for example, is 92 percent. It's 95 percent in Pasco County Schools. Emails requesting vaccination rates in other districts in the Tampa Bay area went unanswered.

Health experts said concerns about the MMR vaccine contributing to autism were debunked years ago, with a British doctor charged with professional misconduct after promoting false research on the topic.

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