One county in New York is experiencing an outbreak of measles so bad, it’s almost an epidemic
Babies in New York are currently on an accelerated measles vaccination schedule. Some infants are getting their first shots six months earlier than average, and the second dose right away.
Why? Because the entire state of New York is experiencing its worst year for measles since the 1990s.
The accelerated vaccinations are part of a statewide effort to stop several outbreaks of measles from progressing into a full-blown epidemic. There have been 167 cases of measles reported in New York since September.
“It’s a clear and present danger right here in our community,” Dr. Douglas Puder, a pediatrician at Clarkstown Pediatrics, tells NBC News. Clarkstown Pediatrics is right in the middle of the biggest outbreak, in New York’s Rockland County. The county has reported 105 cases of measles since the fall. More than 80 percent on average had not been vaccinated. A majority of those infected with measles are members of Orthodox Jewish communities across the state.
Unvaccinated children provide the main breeding ground for viruses like the measles to take hold and spread. The measles virus was previously eliminated in the U.S., but has been brought back by people who travel abroad where measles epidemics are on the rise.
The Center for Disease Control says the disease is contagious through the air when the infected cough or sneeze. The symptoms, which can include high fever, red eyes, a full-body rash, and a stuffy nose, usually disappear in those infected after a couple of weeks. But one or two children out of 1,000 who get measles will die, according to the CDC.
New York health officials have been desperately battling the outbreaks — which they believe are fueled primarily by anti-vaccine propaganda, lack of vaccination enforcement in schools, and a growing trend of families who turn away from standard medical care.
Some schools in Rockland County have reported vaccination rates as low as 50 percent. A vaccination rate of 95 percent or higher is necessary to prevent outbreaks of disease. New York is one of 47 states that still allow parents to refuse to vaccinate their children for religious reasons.
According to the CDC’s data, only three states in the U.S. meet the 95% vaccination rate: Rhode Island, Virginia, and North Dakota. Three states. Out of 50. Let that sink in for a minute.
The World Health Organization reports that measles is one of the deadliest childhood illnesses globally with 450 kids dying from the disease every day. Unvaccinated infants are particularly vulnerable to infection, which is why the CDC emphasizes the importance of herd immunity.
New York health officials are doing what they can to have schools, daycares, and preschools require vaccinations and enforce exclusion policies to stop the spread of measles as permitted by law.
The growing number of outbreaks like this one makes for a terrifying reality. We need to protect those who are unable to be vaccinated and make vaccinations a top priority in healthcare before things get worse.