WASHINGTON - So far this year, more than 300 people have contracted measles in 15 states in the U.S. Almost half of those cases occurred in Rockland County, just north of New York City.
Because of the outbreak, which has lasted nearly six months, county officials have declared a state of emergency and are banning anyone who is unvaccinated from frequenting public places.
“Anyone who is under 18 years of age and is not vaccinated against the measles will be prohibited from public places until the declaration expires in 30 days or until they receive their first shot of MMR,” said Ed Day, county executive.
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Public places include shopping malls, restaurants, buses and trains. Police will not be asking for vaccination records, but parents can face a fine of $500 and as much as six months in jail if they refuse to vaccinate their children.
The outbreak is concentrated in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
'Roll of the dice'
The county executive says it is a matter of getting parents to understand how dangerous measles is.
“Every new case is a roll of the dice,” Day said. “It could bring on pneumonia, encephalitis, the swelling of the brain, or cause premature birth, which can lead to complications and even death.”
And, he said, it’s a matter of keeping those who can’t get vaccinated safe.
“What about the infants who are out there with mom and dad? My newborn grandson is an infant. What about those who are pregnant and those with compromised immune systems like cancer patients and survivors? These are the people we all need to step up for,” Day said.
Vaccine rates vary
Vaccine rates in the U.S. are still high. A CDC study found that 94 percent of children in the U.S. receive the first dose of vaccines that protect against measles, mumps, rubella and other vaccine preventable diseases.
But vaccines that require boosters, including the vaccine against measles, had lower rates of coverage.
Some states allow parents who oppose vaccinating their children for religious or philosophical reasons to opt out. Vaccination rates in these states have dropped steadily. And as they have dropped, cases of measles have increased.
Vaccines proven safe
Some parents wrongly believe vaccines can cause autism in children. Study after study has shown that not to be true. Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatrician with the Cleveland Clinic, defends vaccinating children.
“These vaccines are well shown to be safe,” he said. “We have tested them. We have followed children who have received these vaccines. We know how safe they are.”
Still, some parents remain unconvinced. Rockland County is offering free measles vaccinations in an effort to end the outbreak.