President Donald Trump urged people to get vaccinated for measles, saying Friday it’s “so important” amid the worst year for the disease in the U.S. since it was declared eradicated from the country in 2000.
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“They have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots,” Trump told reporters in response to a question about measles before departing for Indiana to give a speech at the annual National Rifle Association convention.
Trump had previously been silent on the issue, even as the disease spread across 22 states. So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed 695 cases so far this year, surpassing the previous record in just the first four months of the year.
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Encouraging people to get vaccinated marks a reversal for Trump, who has pushed false claims about vaccines in the past. He has questioned their safety and stoked fear that vaccinating babies might contribute to rising autism rates. Scientists have repeatedly debunked a now retracted study from the 1990s that falsely claimed vaccines cause autism.
The current U.S. outbreaks arose after unvaccinated people traveled overseas, where large outbreaks are occurring, and brought them back to communities where some people choose not to vaccinate, the CDC said. In New York City and New York’s Rockland County, the disease is spreading among the close-knit Orthodox Jewish community, which anti-vaxxers have targeted. An outbreak is declared when more than three cases are confirmed.
Measles is highly contagious, infecting 90% of unvaccinated people who are exposed to the disease, the agency said. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine offers the best protection. Receiving both recommended doses is 97% effective in preventing the measles, according to the CDC.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of states with active outbreaks. Measles cases have been reported in 22 states this year. Outbreaks are currently ongoing in five states.