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How does the Tri-State Area fare when it comes to measles vaccination rates?

Examining how the Tri-State Area fares when it comes to measles vaccination rates
Examining how the Tri-State Area fares when it comes to measles vaccination rates 03:35

NEW YORK -- The recent measles outbreak in Philadelphia is raising concerns about a similar situation happening here.

Our CBS News Innovation Lab has found measles vaccination rates aren't quite where they need to be across the country.

From Philadelphia to New Jersey, cases of measles are being reported, prompting concern among health experts nationwide.

"I think it's very alarming that these diseases we used to know are now coming back at a time when we actually have very effective vaccines against them," Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr said.

El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia Public Health, is an internationally renowned expert on infection disease and a professor at Columbia University. She remembers life before vaccines stopped the spread of dozens of deadly diseases.

"I've had people in my own family who've had polio, people in my own family with diphtheria and measles. So I have a personal experience with the devastation of these diseases. So it's ironic to me that now we have these vaccines, and we remain hesitant to take advantage of them," El-Sadr said. 

She said vaccine hesitancy, often fueled by misinformation on social media and a widening distrust of medical experts post-pandemic, is becoming an epidemic of its own.

"Side effects of vaccines, do they work, do they not work. I think this vaccine hesitancy is alarming because it tells me if we don't address this hesitancy we're going to see more and more of these outbreaks in the future," El-Sadr said.

The question is: How?

"It's not just about going into a community with low vaccination rates and saying 'Go get vaccinated.' It's about saying 'What's important to you?'" New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said. "And then we can talk about how vaccination and childhood vaccinations are a foundational element of building health for our children."

Vaccination data analyzed by the CBS News Innovation Lab shows New York state has 98% MMR vaccination rate.

In Connecticut, the rate is 95.7%

In New Jersey, where health officials have documented a single case of measles, that number is 94%, which is just 1% below the rate needed for herd immunity. That's when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, typically through vaccines. If enough people are resistant to the cause of the disease, it has nowhere to go.

"We all take actions to help prevent the spread of disease. So we want to ensure people who might have been in contact with that case have been vaccinated," New Jersey State Epedimiologist Tina Tan said.

Preventing the spread is essential, because measles is highly contagious.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if one person has measles, up to 90% of people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

"We want to be able to protect not only ourselves, but also our community at large," Tan said.

Health officials say the goal is complete immunity, meaning a 100% vaccination rate among children and adults, to ensure the diseases of our past stay there.

When we say 98% of people are vaccinated against measles, that might seem high, but even a fraction of a percentage point fewer people vaccinated can change what's known as herd immunity. Steven Stock will have more about that in a special report airing Tuesday. 

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