For Immediate Release
March 21, 2024

Media Contact:

Lisa Cox
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services


Rate of national measles cases highlights importance of vaccination

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – As vaccine uptake continues to decrease, measles cases or outbreaks have emerged in several states, including Missouri earlier this year. Nationally, the total number of measles cases has already reached the level that occurred during the entire year of 2023. With cases reported across the country, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) recommends parents and guardians check their child’s vaccination records to make sure they have received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This vaccine has been used in the United States since the 1970s and is a safe and effective way to protect children from measles. To be fully immunized, children are recommended to receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the first dose between ages 12-15 months and the second dose between ages 4-6 years old. Infants as young as 6 months can receive the first dose if traveling to areas where the measles infection rate is high. Families should consult their health care provider to discuss appropriate vaccine options for their children.

Herd immunity, achieved through a measles vaccination rate of 95% or more is crucial for preventing disease outbreaks in the community and protecting vulnerable populations who cannot receive vaccines.


“Achieving this level of vaccination creates a barrier that limits the spread of infectious disease within a community, safeguarding those who are unable to be vaccinated due to their age or compromised immune systems,” said Dr. George Turabelidze, state epidemiologist with DHSS.

Statewide, the MMR vaccination rate among kindergarteners has dropped steadily from 95.4% in the 2016-2017 school year to 90.5% at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, according to preliminary data reported by Missouri school districts. Religious (non-medical) exemptions have simultaneously increased from 1.9% to 3.5%.


The measles vaccine, given as part of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, is extremely effective, giving those vaccinated with just one dose 93% protection against measles infection. Both doses of the vaccine provide individuals with a 97% protection rate throughout their lifetime.


Measles is a highly contagious and serious disease, especially serious for children under age five and those who are immunocompromised. Common symptoms include a rash that starts as flat red spots on the head and spreads to other parts of the body, high fever, cough, runny nose, red and watery eyes, and tiny white spots inside the mouth. But in some instances, individuals with measles will develop brain infection, which can lead to brain damage, and for some the disease is fatal even with the best care.


The virus spreads through coughing and sneezing and can live for up to two hours in an airspace after an infected person leaves an area. A person can spread measles without knowing they are infected. If not treated, complications can grow in severity.

Most health insurance plans cover vaccines, but individuals should check with their insurance provider to verify coverage. For those without insurance, the Vaccines for Children Program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides free vaccines to children who qualify.


Additionally, most local public health agencies throughout the state of Missouri offer vaccinations at affordable rates. To find a local public health agency near you and schedule an appointment, visit the Local Public Health Agency Directory.