U.S.-bound Afghan evacuation flights will be halted for a week after measles cases

  • Inbound flights of Afghan refugees to the United States will remain suspended for at least a week, a White House spokeswoman said Monday.
  • The flights, first halted Friday, will not resume until next Monday at the earliest.
  • Afghan refugees currently housed on U.S. army bases are being administered vaccines, she said, and the Biden administration plans to soon begin vaccinating Afghans for measles, mumps and rubella while they are still overseas.

WASHINGTON — Inbound flights of Afghan refugees to the United States will remain suspended for at least another week, a White House spokeswoman said Monday, after four cases of measles were discovered among recently arrived Afghans.

The flights, which were first halted Friday, "will remain paused for at least 7 additional days," deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Boise, Idaho. A White House official later clarified this meant a week from Monday, not a week from last Friday.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that can be spread through coughing or sneezing. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control declared that measles was no longer being transmitted among Americans.

The Afghans who were diagnosed with measles "are being housed separately in accordance with public health guidelines, and the CDC has begun full contact tracing," Jean-Pierre said.

The tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who are currently housed on U.S. army bases are being administered "critical immunizations including [measles, mumps and rubella]," Jean-Pierre said.

"We will soon begin vaccinating Afghans for MMR while they are still overseas," she added.

All of those arriving as part of Operation Allies Welcome are required to be vaccinated for the measles as a condition of entry.

It was unclear Monday precisely how many U.S.-bound Afghans remained at the dozens of American and allied military bases around the world that agreed to take in refugees during the massive airlift in the last two weeks of August.

By the end of September, the United States anticipates it will admit approximately 65,000 refugees through Operation Allies Welcome.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can become infected with measles if they breathe contaminated air, or if they touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, noses or mouths.

Prior to the the introduction of a measles vaccine in 1963, about half a million new measles cases were reported to the CDC every year.

The vaccine brought case loads down for decades, until finally measles was deemed to have been eliminated in 2000.

But the growing number of parents in the past 10 years who refuse to vaccinate their children has led to a resurgence of the disease in America.

Hundreds of measles cases were reported in 2019 in the U.S. — a huge jump from prior years.

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