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More Than 700 Measles Cases Reported Across 22 States, CDC Data Show

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we're going to spend the next few minutes talking about the growing public health threat from the measles. The outbreak in this country is now the worst in quarter of a century. The CDC announced yesterday that there were at least 704 cases in the U.S. so far this year across 22 states.

Here's CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield speaking recently to NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ROBERT R REDFIELD: We think this is a very serious situation. It does have the potential to regain a foothold in the United States.

MARTIN: That's hard to imagine considering the virus was declared eliminated from the U.S. back in the year 2000 and the Americas declared measles-free in just 2016.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Fauci, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: How did things change? I mean, how did we go from the measles has been eradicated to now an outbreak like we're seeing?

FAUCI: Well, what's happened is that we've had a movement, if you want to call it that, in this country of reluctance to get vaccinated. You can call it vaccine hesitancy or you can call it outright anti-vax as they call it where certain segments of the population are not vaccinating their children to the extent that you need to protect not only the individual child but the community.

You need about 93% to 95% of the population to be vaccinated against measles to have that umbrella of protection. Once you get down below a certain level, the way we've seen in certain communities - I think the prototype of which is the community in Brooklyn - in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, in the Hasidic Jewish community - where their level in the community is very low. And that's why we're having a very striking outbreak...

MARTIN: Their vaccination level, yeah.

FAUCI: Yeah. It's about 400 cases now that we've had there.

MARTIN: So we've heard all kinds of - people like yourself, experts. Even President Trump has implored the public to get their measles vaccine. At what point does this warrant more action from the federal government?

FAUCI: Well, you know, it'll unlikely will be federal government, but where we're talking about is that the states and schools, for example, to really tighten up the requirements of getting people in school.

And in even places like New York City and Brooklyn where they've actually fined people for not getting vaccinated and going into public closed places - that's really somewhat of a draconian thing to do, but sometimes it's necessary because what we're seeing now is we're seeing the beginning of what could be something that could get out of control as you get more outbreaks.

So we have to do something more. Certainly, we want to convince people to get their children vaccinated, but if they don't, we may need to do things that are a little bit more stringent.

MARTIN: So you said things could get out of control. I mean, only 704 cases - it's relatively small percentage of the 320-plus million people in this country. But do you think this could escalate to a full-blown public health emergency then?

FAUCI: Well, you know, unlikely because right now, we still have a very high percentage of people in the country who are vaccinated. We are well, you know, over 90%.

But in certain groups where you have a low level, you can see these pockets of outbreaks. We've seen them in Rockland County. We've seen it in Brooklyn, a bit in California and Washington state. So I don't think you're going to see a diffuse outbreaks throughout the country. But you will see these kinds of outbreaks in occasional individual cases.

MARTIN: Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes for Health, thank you so much for your time this morning. We really appreciate it.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.