State Health Officials Alarmed by U.S. Measles Outbreaks, Stress the Importance of Adhering to Established Public Health Practices and Vaccinating the Unvaccinated

February 26, 2024

ARLINGTON, VA—The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Chief Medical Officer Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, issued the following statement in response to several measles outbreaks currently occurring in the United States.

“Measles can be particularly serious for children and potentially deadly. At least 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the United States who contract measles is hospitalized. Nearly 1 out of 20 children develop pneumonia, the most frequent cause of measles-related death in young children. Approximately 1 child out of every 1,000 with measles will suffer brain injury potentially causing convulsions, deafness, or intellectual disability. For unvaccinated babies who contract measles, 1 in 600 can develop a fatal neurological complication.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but is still the most easily transmitted human virus presently in circulation. Thankfully, by following established public health principles, Americans can make informed decisions, prevent outbreaks, and protect our communities.

Vaccination is the best and safest way to protect children. Two doses of measles vaccine are more than 97% effective in preventing the disease entirely, and vaccinated people may continue to engage in routine activities even if they are exposed to someone with the disease. When community vaccination rates drop below 95%, however, outbreaks become more common because the disease can spread from one vulnerable person to another.

If you or your child hasn’t received the measles vaccine, we strongly recommend getting vaccinated especially if you live in a community experiencing an outbreak. Vaccinated people are protected and may continue to engage in routine activities even if exposed. If you have questions about the measles vaccine, please speak with your pediatrician or primary care provider.

Because of the risk of severe disease from measles and the high likelihood of transmission to others even before symptoms are evident, well-established public health practice recommends that unvaccinated persons exposed to measles stay home for at least 21 days to prevent further growth of the outbreak. While this is undoubtedly disruptive to the persons impacted, imagine how much more disruptive it would be if measles takes hold again in the United States, spreading widely, and impacting children and communities across the entire nation.

Public health professionals are dedicated to supporting individuals and communities through education and resources. By empowering individuals with knowledge and tools to promote good health and reduce disease risks we can work together to achieve individual and collective well-being. Following proven public health strategies allows each of us to take personal responsibility for keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities healthy, productive, and safe.”


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.