Resurgence of the measles

Vaccine hesitancy is increasing cases of a once eliminated disease in the U.S., putting plan sponsors in a unique position to educate and engage their members.

The viral childhood infection known as the measles has recently made a resurgence in the United States, putting the country at risk to lose its status as having eliminated the disease, a distinction the U.S. has held since 2000. Within the first three months of 2024, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 64 cases of measles in the U.S., compared to 58 measles cases for all of 2023. 

Measles symptoms typically appear between 10 and 14 days after exposure to the virus and can include a fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes and/or blotchy rashes. Although the measles was once a common illness, it can now be easily prevented with the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

Growing vaccine hesitancy

Although vaccines are effective in preventing life-threatening diseases and illnesses, vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines - is still present amongst individuals worldwide. In fact, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health.

The COVID-19 pandemic was riddled by political undertones and misinformation, leading to hesitancy toward getting vaccinated for COVID-19, with ripple effects to other vaccine preventable illnesses as well.

Every year, more and more parents are pushing back against recommended infant vaccine schedules. Yet, there are no known benefits from delaying immunization in children. Spreading out vaccines only leaves children unprotected when they are most vulnerable to contagious illnesses. 

One of the most contagious diseases in the world

The CDC recommends that children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, starting the first dose between 12-15 months, and the second dose between 4-6 years of age. One dose of the MMR vaccine is 93% effective against measles with two doses being 97% effective.

As effective as the vaccine is, measles remains as one of the most contagious diseases worldwide for those who have not been immunized against it. Unvaccinated individuals have a much higher risk of developing the measles. In fact, nine out of 10 unvaccinated children who come in contact with an infected individual will contract the virus.

The CDC estimates that one in four cases of the measles in the U.S. results in hospitalization, with the most severe cases resulting in death. The measles has the potential to become serious for any infected individual, but children under five years of age, adults older than 20 years of age, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals are most at risk of suffering complications. There is no specific antiviral drug available to treat the measles. Medical care for infected individuals focuses on relieving symptoms and addressing complications such as bacterial infections.

How plan sponsors can empower members and their families to get vaccinated

Vaccine costs are nominal, but can have a huge impact for both plan sponsors and their members. It is estimated that for every $1 spent on immunization, $26 is generated in return. Plan sponsors are in unique positions to engage and educate members on the importance of vaccinations, for both themselves and their families. 

For many members, convenience can mean the difference between action and avoidance. Employers can increase accessibility to immunizations by offering common vaccinations through partnerships at local pharmacies. Pharmacies have expanded hours and are more convenient for members vs. a trip to the doctor’s office. Plan sponsors should also consider offering members extra time off for planned vaccine-related absences, which could cut down on unexpected and extended time off later if they get sick. 

See how our solutions can help
Pharmacy Vaccination Program
The Evernorth Pharmacy Vaccination Program makes sure plan members are covered when they get vaccinated at a pharmacy, an on-site clinic, or other location, and claims are processed through their pharmacy benefit. Enrolled plan sponsors receive a digital vaccination toolkit to help inform and empower members to get their vaccine.