ALBUQUERQUE — Measles cases this year have climbed to 695, the highest number since the virus was eliminated almost two decades ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging families to vaccinate their children and lawmakers to make it harder to opt out of vaccine requirements for school entry.
“It is frustrating to see so many children suffering unnecessarily from a preventable disease. It is important to take measures to educate parents and begin a dialogue that helps them understand why immunizations are safe and necessary for a healthier population” said Janis Gonzales, MD, FAAP, president of the New Mexico Pediatric Society.
The respiratory disease has symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes followed by a rash. It can result in complications like pneumonia, brain damage and deafness and can be fatal.
Cases have been reported this year in 22 states. Outbreaks are ongoing in Rockland County, New York; New York City; Washington; New Jersey; Michigan; and Butte County, Calif.
Measles was considered eliminated in 2000. Since that time, the highest case count was 667 in 2014, according to the CDC. The virus is highly contagious and those who contract it typically are unvaccinated. Pockets of unvaccinated people are especially vulnerable.
The CDC and the Academy recommend children receive the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) at 12-15 months and the second dose at 4-6 years. During an outbreak affecting infants, MMR vaccine may be recommended for infants ages 6 months through 11 months, but should not count toward the two-dose series, according to the AAP Red Book. Depending on local measles activity, local and state health departments may have additional recommendations.
“The New Mexico chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics will continue to push for education and communication around this issue in order to protect vulnerable children with auto-immune disorders who are unable to receive vaccinations. This is the strategy that, until recently, has kept deadly diseases like measles out of the population almost entirely” Dr. Gonzales said.
Misinformation online about the safety of vaccines has been a growing threat to vaccination rates.
In March, AAP President Kyle E. Yasuda, M.D., FAAP, sent letters to the CEOs of Google (which owns YouTube), Facebook (which owns WhatsApp and Instagram) and Pinterest requesting that they partner with the Academy to make sure parents using their platforms are seeing credible, science-based information.
All but three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — allow non-medical exemptions. Ten states — Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have introduced legislation this year to eliminate them. Several states are debating ways to toughen the process of obtaining a non-medical exemption.