By Sarah Ferris - 01/29/15 04:37 PM EST
A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday said the country’s anti-vaccine movement has been a major factor in this year’s measles outbreak, a trend that she called “frustrating."
“This is not a problem of the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used,” Anne Schuchat, the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing with reporters Thursday.
The briefing was the first time that the CDC has spoken publicly about the measles outbreak that has erupted over the last month, with most cases stemming from the Disneyland theme park in California.
The CDC has reported 84 cases of measles in January alone, a record figure that could put 2015 on to pace to meet — or beat — last year’s enormous caseload.
The U.S. saw a record 644 cases in 2014, the highest number since the disease was officially eliminated in 2000. Before then, the CDC rarely saw more than 60 cases in one year.
"This is a wake-up call to make sure we prevent measles from gaining a foothold in our country," she warned. "It’s only January, and we’ve already had 84 cases."
The increase in measles cases coincides with a small, but growing, anti-vaccination campaign.
While the vast majority of people comply with states' mandatory vaccination laws, there are exemptions for those opposed for personal reasons.
About 79 percent of people infected with measles in 2014 said they had chosen not to vaccinate themselves due to their “personal beliefs,” Schuchat said.
“It is frustrating that some people have opted out of vaccination,” she added.
Schuchat brushed off concerns that the vaccine could lead to autism or other side effects in children, adding that the claims “just had not borne out at all.”
“It’s very safe, very effective, really necessary,” she said.