Afghan Resettlement Delayed after Measles Cases Detected in Recent Arrivals

Afghan refugees wait to board buses that will take them to a processing center after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., September 2, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The CDC has reportedly recommended that Afghan evacuees being processed at U.S. military bases overseas be tested and vaccinated for measles — an undertaking that would delay resettlement efforts by weeks — after four individuals tested positive following their arrival in the United States last week.

The Biden administration first announced last week that it would pause flights for Afghan evacuees at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar after four people tested positive following their arrival in the U.S. 

On Monday, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the administration plans to halt flights for “at least seven additional days.”

However, senior administration officials reportedly told Politico that they are making arrangements for the pause to be extended to allow thousands of people to be vaccinated and for immunity to develop. 

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Such an undertaking could cause weeks-long delays in the efforts to resettle as many as 12,000 Afghans, and it would lengthen the stay of evacuees now housed at U.S. military bases, which are already struggling with overcrowding, according to the report.

“All arriving Afghans are currently required to be vaccinated for measles as a condition of their humanitarian parole and critical immunizations,” Jean-Pierre said.

The CDC is currently performing contact tracing of the individuals with confirmed measles cases in an effort to find any other Afghan evacuees who may have also been infected. Military and American government medical personnel are working to screen evacuees and will assist with vaccination at the bases, the report says.

The U.S. is testing Afghan evacuees domestically and has quarantined the four individuals who tested positive. As of Monday, no additional measles cases had been reported at the Ramstein Air Base, and it’s unclear whether more cases had been found in Qatar, an official told Politico.

CDC data show that roughly 90 percent of unvaccinated individuals will contract measles; Afghanistan is known to have low vaccination rates.

The WHO defines a measles outbreak as two or more lab-confirmed cases that are “temporally related” or with dates of a rash occurrence beginning seven to 23 days apart. An outbreak has ended when there are no linked cases for 46 days from the onset of the last case, according to the agency.

The apprehension over measles comes as the U.S. is already working to screen Afghan evacuees for COVID-19 at its domestic and international bases. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is running a mass vaccination site for refugees at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

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