Arizona health officials are reporting that the largest current measles outbreak in the U.S. is due in part to federal immigration detention center employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
According to the Los Angeles Times, authorities have confirmed 22 measles cases in the State since May – all originating from the Eloy Detention Center. The outbreak reportedly began with a migrant detainee, but his/her fellow detainees were vaccinated. As the Times reports, getting center employees to vaccinate proved to be a struggle.
“And so they’re actually the ones that are passing along the measles among each other and then going out into the community,” Pinal County health director Thomas Schryer said.
Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman, said that the agency is working closely with health officials to monitor detainees and employees and that it instituted several measures to prevent the disease from spreading further, including providing immunizations, referring staffers to nearby clinics, handing out fliers and pamphlets on the dangers of measles and providing masks and gloves.
CCA, the Tennessee-based corporation that operates the facility, said most of its staffers have been vaccinated or shown proof of immunity. Those who have not are required to wear surgical masks or stay home.
Measles is highly contagious, but also highly preventable through the use of vaccines. Although it was eradicated in the U.S. back in 2000, it’s making a slow comeback thanks to a movement of people who refuse to vaccinate based on religious beliefs and gross misconceptions about vaccine science — namely the notion that vaccination is linked to childhood autism. Babies are the most vulnerable to this dangerous trend in quackery, since they cannot be immunized if they’re under a year-old.
“To trigger a four-day stay in the hospitals,” Schryer said, “you [have to] be pretty darn sick. It’s not really something to play with, and maybe they just underestimated the seriousness of it.”