Aug 28, 2023 - Health

Louisiana MMR vaccine rates dip below community immunity threshold

Data: CDC; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: CDC; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Louisiana's measles vaccination coverage has dipped below the threshold generally accepted to prevent community transmission.

Why it matters: "Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to mankind," Louisiana state health officer and medical doctor Joseph Kanter tells Axios, but outbreaks are "entirely preventable" through vaccination.

State of play: Louisiana has some of the nation's loosest exemption laws for families wishing to forgo childhood vaccinations, Kanter says, but historically some of the highest vaccination rates.

  • The state does not require notarized letters or doctors' notes for exemptions. Families just submit written notice that they have "medical, religious or philosophical reasons" for opting out.
  • The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is typically scheduled for children around 1 and 4 years of age.

By the numbers: Vaccine exemptions for kindergartners are slowly creeping up nationally and in Louisiana, according to CDC data gathered by Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj.

  • In Louisiana, 1.1% of kindergartners were exempted in 2022, below the national average of 2.7%.
  • For measles specifically, 95% of a community should be vaccinated to prevent spread, according to Kanter, and Louisiana dropped to 93.5% for the 2021-2022 school year.

What he's saying: Put simply, Kanter says, "I don't like the direction we're heading."

Exactly why medical experts are seeing the downward trend in vaccination rates is a little unclear, but likely a mix of several factors.

  • The anti-vaccination community got more organized and vocal during the coronavirus pandemic, but rates were slipping even before 2020.
  • The pandemic also upended many families' routine health care checkups.

What we're watching: Kanter hopes the latest data is "a blip" and not a continuing trend as families get back into their pre-pandemic routines and medical professionals fight against misinformation.

  • "This is the alarm bell," he says. "It takes years — sometimes decades — to recover lost ground. Sometimes it takes longer to recover lost trust for the people who have fallen victim to false truths out there."

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