The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has announced two cases of measles in Boston-area hospitals. This is causing concern in other parts of the state where vaccine rates are lower.
Massachusetts has one of the highest childhood vaccination rates in the country. But the number of people getting vaccine exemptions for their children — for religious or medical reasons — has been steadily rising. Since the 1980s, the exemption rate has increased five-fold, according to state reports. And Western Massachusetts has among the highest rates of opting out — with Franklin, Hampshire, and Berkshire counties well above the state average. So when measles appears anywhere in the state, public health officials worry that unvaccinated children are at risk for the potentially fatal illness.
“I think they should be concerned,” says Larry Madoff, who runs Massachusetts’ immunization program. “One of the things we know about measles is it’s highly contagious, and people travel.”
Madoff can’t say for sure why parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, but he says many still believe autism is caused by vaccines, despite strong scientific evidence discrediting that theory. Madoff says last year there were no cases of measles in Massachusetts, but in 2011, there were 24.