Air travel a major threat in spread of measles in California

The state Legislature’s push to tighten up vaccine requirements for K-12 students took a step forward last week even as public health officials acknowledged a British medical study that said travelers to the U.S. from nations with measles outbreaks were a major threat – not just unvaccinated children.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 9-2 with four abstentions for a compromise version of Senate Bill 276, by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. It would require state health experts to examine medical vaccine exemptions coming from doctors who had issued five or more exemptions in a school year or from schools which had lower than the 95 percent vaccination rate seen as necessary to promote “herd immunity” in communities.

Pan, a physician, had weakened the bill at the behest of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said that the original version that had already won state Senate approval was overly intrusive and bureaucratic. It would have required all medical exemptions to be examined by state officials. Pan had introduced the measure in response to medical exemptions going up by more than 400 percent for incoming kindergartners after personal belief exemptions were banned in 2016.

But a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal suggests that state actions alone can’t protect residents in an era in which measles and other infectious diseases are surging around the world due to both vaccine skepticism and poor public health programs in First World nations.

3 California counties at high risk

The study used patterns of international travel in and out of the U.S. to determine which were the 25 counties most at risk of a measles outbreak in 2019. Cook County, Illinois – home to O’Hare Airport – was first. Three California counties made the list. Los Angeles County was second; San Mateo County (home to San Francisco International Airport) was 19th; and San Diego County was 25th.

One of the authors of The Lancet study – Johns Hopkins professor Lauren Gardner – told the Los Angeles Times that California’s vulnerability was inevitable in an era of mass air travel. “The places, in particular in California … are really high on the list mainly because of the sheer volume of travelers,” Gardner said. “It’s not just the fact that there are big airports, but those airports have a lot of incoming routes from countries having ongoing measles outbreaks.”

The Philippines has had a severe measles outbreak since February, with the most recent estimates of cases topping 33,000 – including nearly 500 deaths. The U.S. State Department and international health agencies also cite outbreaks in the Ukraine, Italy and Israel.

As of June 13, the U.S. had 1,044 confirmed measles cases this year, the most in a single year since 1992. The worst outbreaks have been in the New York City metro area and in southern Washington state, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.

While a 2014 outbreak traced to Disneyland in Orange County fueled the rise of concern about the renewed measles threat in the United States, California has not seen as severe an outbreak since then.

But researchers for The Lancet believe it is just a matter of time.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com