Health department preps for measles with vaccination education

Published 7:33 pm Monday, June 24, 2019

From Jan. 1 to June 20, 1,077 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 28 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Carolina is not one of them, but that doesn’t mean local health departments aren’t preparing.

Beaufort County Health Department Director Jim Madson said, right now, his staff is working on informing the public about the reasons why vaccination is so important.

“Right now, mostly, we’re advocating for vaccinations for measles,” Madson said. “But we have another team prepared if it appears in our county.”

Thirty-two of Beaufort County Schools’ 6,535 students have not been vaccinated, a 99.51% vaccination rate. In private schools in the county, 30 of 850 students have not been vaccinated, a vaccination rate of 96.46%.

Students may only be exempted from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Madson said the difference in vaccination rates between public and private schools likely points to a greater number of religious exemptions at private schools. However, he stressed that no major religion, as a body, has stated opposition to vaccinations — rather, it’s a personally held religious belief. Those with medical exemptions are far more prevalent.

“They may have certain conditions where the vaccine might cause an allergic reaction. …

The majority of them have a compromised immune system, so therefore you don’t want to give them the vaccine,” Madson said.

What the health department does want to do is ensure everyone around those who can’t get vaccinated is vaccinated, which protects everyone involved.

“That’s the reason we try to get as many people vaccinated as we can: what we’re shooting for is herd immunity, where the likelihood of coming into contact with someone with measles is decreased,” Madson said. “The big public health strategy is immunizing as many people as we can against measles.”

Over the past decade, the number of measles cases in the U.S. has varied from year to year, from a low of 63 in 2010, to a previous high of 667 in 2014, prior to the 1,077 so far this year, with more than six months remaining. Currently, measles outbreaks are ongoing in Rockland County, New York, New York City, Butte County, California, Pennsylvania and Washington state. According to the CDC, these outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring.

Madson said North Carolina normally might see up to three measles cases a year, but it’s been a long time since Beaufort County’s last measles case.

“Most people in the state are preparing for the first case,” Madson said.

Vaccinations are available at the Beaufort County Health Department, which can be reached at 252-946-1902.