Mar 15, 2024 - News

What we know (and don't) about Chicago's measles outbreak

Collage of an arm receiving a vaccination shot over an American flag, with measles dots scattered through

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chicago health officials Thursday reported two more cases of measles at a Pilsen migrant shelter, bringing the city's total to 12 so far.

Why it matters: The outbreak is raising questions about how the city manages migrant health care and vaccinations, and stoking fears that it could stigmatize new arrivals.

The big picture: The highly contagious disease is spreading in the city amid a national measles outbreak. Chicago health commissioner Simbo Ige says the city's first measles case this year didn't come from the shelter.

  • "The first case of measles in Chicago was a non-shelter resident," she says. "And those who got infected got infected because measles was circulating in Chicago."

Catch up quick: Last week, health officials identified cases of measles at a Pilsen shelter, where 900 residents — roughly half of the people staying there — weren't immunized against the disease. Newly vaccinated shelter residents are currently being quarantined.

  • Two of the people infected are CPS students. The district confirmed the students attend Cooper Dual Language Academy in Pilsen and Armour Elementary School in Bridgeport.
  • School-aged Pilsen shelter residents have been advised to stay out of school until the vaccination status of all fellow residents has been resolved.
  • Over this week, every eligible Pilsen shelter resident has consented and received an MMR vaccination, Ige says. Officials are also now administering them to new arrivals at the landing zone.

How it works: Cook County Health conducts urgent medical screenings when migrants initially arrive, but they have up to 90 days to perform comprehensive medical screenings including vaccination checks, Ige said during a Facebook livestream Wednesday.

  • Students living in temporary living situations (STLS) are not required to show proof of immunization to attend school, per the federal McKinney-Vento Act.
  • Even non-STLS students are often allowed to attend school while they get their state-mandated documentation in order, CPS officials tell Axios.

What we don't know: If the city had administered comprehensive screenings to the 900 unvaccinated migrants prior to the outbreak

  • How many Chicagoans, and CPS students, are currently vaccinated against measles
  • How, if at all, the 900 newly vaccinated shelter residents under quarantine will be affected by the city's 60-day shelter stay policy

The bottom line: Ige stresses that everyone who has gotten their MMR vaccination, even as a child, should be protected from measles.

Yes, but: Anyone who is not immune (either through previous infection or vaccination) could be at risk if they enter a space occupied by an infected person, even two hours later.

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