The U.S. has “temporarily paused” flights containing Afghan refugees from entering the country due to four confirmed measles cases, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during her Friday briefing.
“These individuals are being quarantined in accordance with public health guidelines and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has begun full contact tracing,” Psaki said in response to a question from Reuters’ Alex Alper. “All arriving Afghans are currently required to be vaccinated for measles, as a condition of entry into United States and critical immunizations, including MMR [measles, mumps, rubella], are being administered for Afghans at military bases in the United States.” (RELATED: How Is The Biden Administration Vetting Afghan Refugees?)
Psaki did not say how long flights associated with Operation Allies Welcome would be paused for, or where refugees evacuated from Afghanistan would be housed during the pause.
At least 20,000 Afghan refugees are currently being housed at eight military bases inside the U.S., and others are being hosted by private organizations.
Abroad, Afghans are being housed at Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and other military installations in Spain, Italy, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. In the U.S. and abroad, refugees and U.S. government employees have reported squalid living conditions, including “trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover[ing] the floors” at Al Udeid, according to one email obtained by Axios.
“We are also exploring measures to vaccinate people while they are still overseas,” Psaki added. “So that’s something we’re looking into, but it was again a step recommended by the CDC out of an abundance of caution given the four measles cases.”
Measles has been mostly eradicated from the U.S. due to widespread adoption of the MMR vaccine. Recent flare-ups in states like Oregon and Washington have been attributed to opposition to the vaccine, which is typically administered to children at the ages of one and four.
The disease remains endemic in Afghanistan, however, due to low vaccination rates. Afghanistan has had the seventh-most reported measles cases in the world in 2021, according to the CDC, and often flares up during times of civil war.