Feb 27, 2024 - News

Measles cases still climbing in Broward amid rift between Ladapo, CDC

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

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The number of confirmed measles cases in Broward County is now up to seven — with an eighth case deemed "probable" — amid an outbreak at a local school and conflicting guidance from state and federal officials.

  • The Florida Department of Health also reported a confirmed case in Polk County.

Why it matters: The newly reported cases come after Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo defied federal guidelines by not urging parents to vaccinate their children against the highly contagious virus or to keep unvaccinated students at home.

  • Ladapo's stance is the latest example of how conservative officials are disregarding public health norms as measles cases continue to rise, Axios' Adriel Bettelheim and Jacob Knutson report.
  • As of Feb. 22, 35 cases have been reported in 15 states, including Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Catch up fast: Earlier this month, the Sun Sentinel reported a third grade student in the Broward County school district with no history of travel had been diagnosed with the disease.

  • Within a week, Florida Department of Health officials had identified six cases at Manatee Bay Elementary School, as reported by the Miami Herald.

Last week, Broward County School District Superintendent Peter Licata informed families of the Weston K–5 school that they could keep their child home for 21 days and continue their coursework online, regardless of their vaccination status.

  • The directive came after 200 students stayed home last Tuesday. School officials reported 174 student absences Wednesday, per CBS News.

What they're saying: Learning from home for a short time is "not going to make or break a student," Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco tells Axios.

  • "We've had kids out with the flu for two to three weeks, and they come back to class and get right back," she says.
  • This situation is not the same as the long-term virtual learning districts deployed during the pandemic, Fusco says.

Threat level: Measles is a highly contagious disease, with an over 90% contraction rate among susceptible contacts, according to the health department.

  • During a school board meeting earlier this month, Licata said 3% of Manatee Bay Elementary students — or 33 out of 1,067 — are currently unvaccinated.

Friction point: Though the MMR vaccine is required to enroll in all public and private child care and K–12 schools in Florida, some students can be exempt for medical or religious reasons.

What we're watching: The uptick in measles cases is the "canary in the coal mine" for the country's ability to fight the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, vaccine expert Paul Offit told Axios earlier this month.

  • In January, the CDC issued an alert to physicians after reports of nearly two dozen preventable cases since December.
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