Florida measles outbreak initiates online debate

As of February 23, seven cases of measles have been confirmed in Florida children under the age of 14. In response, some social media posts about the outbreak are spreading false claims about measles and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Some posts claim that the current outbreak of measles in Florida was caused by a recent MMR vaccination campaign, falsely stating that the vaccine causes the disease it actually prevents. These concerns come in the wake of similar false narratives about COVID-19 vaccines. Others allege that since COVID-19 vaccines don’t offer 100 percent protection against the COVID-19 virus, then the MMR vaccine must also be ineffective at preventing recipients from contracting measles.

Risk level: High

Recommendation: Measles is a potentially life-threatening disease that can cause severe complications, especially in children, including hospitalization, pneumonia, and encephalitis. Contracting measles is also particularly dangerous for pregnant patients, who may give birth prematurely or whose babies may have low-birth-weight as a result of a measles infection. Doctors in Florida, especially pediatricians, should expect their patients to have questions and concerns as a result of the current outbreak. It’s also possible that the latest outbreak could cause cases to spread nationally; measles cases in several states in December 2023 and January of this year prompted the CDC to issue an emergency alert on January 25. 

Doctors may emphasize that children in Florida and elsewhere who have not yet received the MMR vaccine should get vaccinated now. Unvaccinated children who have been exposed to measles can receive the MMR vaccine within 72 hours of exposure. According to the CDC, unvaccinated adults and children should isolate at home for 21 days to avoid exposure during a measles outbreak. This includes keeping unvaccinated children home from school. 

The MMR vaccine does not cause vaccinated people to contract or spread measles—it prevents vaccinated people from becoming infected with the disease. If questioned, doctors may emphasize that vaccine “shedding” is expected with some vaccines and is not harmful to recipients or those around them. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are 97 percent effective at preventing measles. The U.S. is currently experiencing measles outbreaks due to declining vaccination rates, which jeopardize herd immunity.

Additional messaging may emphasize that receiving the MMR vaccine is much safer than contracting measles, and adverse reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare.