Does vac­ci­na­tion fully pro­tect you from measles?

An­swer­ing this and other com­mon virus queries

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Nicholas Rondi­none

Measles was ef­fec­tively wiped out nearly two decades ago, but cases are on the rise na­tion­ally.

Amid an out­break in New York City, of­fi­cials there or­dered ev­ery­one to vaccinate against the virus, even those who have claimed an ex­emp­tion.

Since the start of the year, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has re­ceived 465 re­ports of con­firmed measles cases from 19 states. These re­ports, the sec­ond high­est num­ber since 2000, have stoked con­cerns in the pub­lic health com­mu­nity.

By Fri­day, Con­necti­cut health of­fi­cials con­firmed that three

cases of the measles have been re­ported in Con­necti­cut, and the lat­est case, a per­son in New Haven County, was con­nected to the out­break in New York City.

In Con­necti­cut, the vac­ci­na­tion rate re­mains high, but law­mak­ers, mir­ror­ing moves in other states, are con­sid­er­ing get­ting rid of re­li­gious ex­emp­tions to vac­ci­na­tions — a num­ber steadily on the rise in re­cent years.

What is the vac­ci­na­tion rate in Con­necti­cut?

Track­ing vac­cines for stu­dents en­ter­ing school in kinder­garten and sev­enth grade, the state Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health re­ported last school year that 98.2 per­cent of chil­dren re­ceived vac­cines in­clud­ing those that pre­vent measles, mumps and rubella.

Con­necti­cut al­lows ex­emp­tions for re­li­gious and med­i­cal pur­poses, and in re­cent years those num­bers have in­creased, pub­lic health records show.

As of the 2017-18 school year, 1,513 chil­dren had re­ceived vac­cine ex­emp­tions, up from 465 chil­dren 15 years ear­lier, pub­lic health records show. The ma­jor­ity of the ex­emp­tions are for re­li­gious pur­poses, the records show.

How ef­fec­tive are the vac­cines?

The CDC rec­om­mends chil­dren get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vac­cine. The agency said one dose is 93 per­cent ef­fec­tive at pre­vent­ing measles, while the sec­ond dose brings the ef­fec­tive­ness to 97 per­cent.

The CDC said some peo­ple ex­posed to the virus get sick despite re­ceiv­ing the vac­cine. The rea­son for this is not well un­der­stood by sci­en­tists, the CDC said, but it could be that an in­di­vid­ual’s immune sys­tem did not re­spond well to the vac­cine.

The CDC said that peo­ple who con­tract the virus should have milder symp­toms if they were vac­ci­nated and are less likely to spread the virus. The CDC said the vac­cine, given un­der the proper sched­ule as a child, should pro­tect a per­son for life.

How should par­ents pro­tect in­fants who have not yet re­ceived a vac­ci­na­tion?

As with other vac­cines, chil­dren are typ­i­cally not given the measles, mumps and rubella vac­cine un­til they are 12 to 15 months old.

Dr. Jack Ross, chief of in­fec­tious dis­eases at Hart­ford Hos­pi­tal, said par­ents should avoid un­vac­ci­nated chil­dren and avoid chil­dren who have the measles.

Given the cur­rent cli­mate with the virus, he also sug­gested they avoid any ar­eas with large out­breaks of the virus. The CDC has re­ported measles out­breaks, de­fined as three or more cases, in Rock­land County, N.Y.; New York City; Wash­ing­ton state; New Jersey; Michi­gan; Butte County, Calif.; and Santa Cruz County, Calif.

He also sug­gested par­ents fol­low the ap­pro­pri­ate vac­ci­na­tion sched­ule for their child to pro­vide pro­tec­tion from the virus.

Is the state health depart­ment tak­ing any spe­cial pre­cau­tions in light of the out­breaks in NYC and else­where?

State health of­fi­cials have re­it­er­ated that they are closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion, but say Con­necti­cut ben­e­fits from a very high vac­ci­na­tion rate that de­creases the risk of a wide­spread out­break.

“We are mon­i­tor­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing this case very closely, in­clud­ing work­ing with our lo­cal health de­part­ments to fol­low up with any in­di­vid­u­als that may have been ex­posed to measles,” said Con­necti­cut DPH Com­mis­sioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell in a state­ment Fri­day.

State of­fi­cials stressed the im­por­tance of chil­dren get­ting vac­ci­nated against the virus.

“Sci­ence tells us that the sin­gle best thing any­one can do to pro­tect them­selves from this highly con­ta­gious virus is to get vac­ci­nated,” Coleman-Mitchell said.

What is the Con­necti­cut leg­is­la­ture do­ing to ad­dress this?

Ear­lier this year, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hart­ford, and sev­eral other law­mak­ers pro­posed re­mov­ing the re­li­gious ex­emp­tion that al­lows un­vac­ci­nated chil­dren to at­tend pub­lic schools.

“I know there are some par­ents that feel very pas­sion­ately, but our con­cern is the pub­lic health of the peo­ple of Con­necti­cut,” Ritter said, adding that par­ents who elect to not have their chil­dren vac­ci­nated could ex­pose those chil­dren who can­not re­ceive vac­ci­na­tions or have com­pro­mised immune sys­tems to measles and other dis­eases.

“With the out­breaks across the coun­try, leg­is­la­tors should take a long look at this and ask, ‘Do we want a measles out­break in Con­necti­cut?’ ”

Work­ing with lead­er­ship in the state Se­nate, Ritter said he hopes to pass leg­is­la­tion this year to cre­ate a work­ing group and open up data about vac­ci­na­tions to the group and the pub­lic. The group would take a deep look at the data and re­port back to the leg­is­la­ture in early 2020, he said.

Ritter said he has also asked the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral for a le­gal opin­ion on elim­i­nat­ing the re­li­gious ex­emp­tion.

Why are some groups re­sist­ing vac­ci­na­tion?

The largest por­tion of ex­emp­tions in Con­necti­cut are for those cit­ing re­li­gion.

While peo­ple in Con­necti­cut can seek both re­li­gious and med­i­cal ex­emp­tions for vac­cines, some say par­ents have used re­li­gious ex­emp­tions as an av­enue to not have their child vac­ci­nated for philo­soph­i­cal rea­sons.

Though de­bunked, some peo­ple refuse to vaccinate their chil­dren af­ter a study showed a po­ten­tial re­la­tion­ship be­tween vac­cines and chil­dren be­ing autis­tic. Oth­ers ques­tion the ef­fec­tive­ness or safety of vac­cines.

Ex­perts blame so­cial me­dia for spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about the dangers of vac­cines.

When Ritter and other law­mak­ers an­nounced plans last month to put forth leg­is­la­tion that would change re­li­gious ex­emp­tions, a vo­cal group came to the state Capi­tol to protest.

“The gov­ern­ment has … zero rights to ask you what your re­li­gion is, or for you to ex­plain it, for you to be­long to a cer­tain re­li­gion. This is my re­li­gion, and that’s it. I don’t have to ex­plain it or de­fend it to any­body,” said Shannon Ga­mache of Ash­ford, who chose not to have her son fully vac­ci­nated af­ter he ex­pe­ri­enced what she be­lieves were ad­verse side ef­fects from a vac­cine.

Should teach­ers be con­cerned about chil­dren who aren’t vac­ci­nated?

It is not clear to what ex­tent teach­ers know of a child’s vac­ci­na­tion his­tory, though the in­for­ma­tion is col­lected by school dis­tricts, of­fi­cials said.

Ross said teach­ers who are vac­ci­nated should not be con­cerned if they were vac­ci­nated as a child or born be­fore 1959.

Law­mak­ers are hop­ing to pass leg­is­la­tion that would in­crease trans­parency about the num­ber of un­vac­ci­nated chil­dren in school dis­tricts and schools. Ritter says that teach­ers should have the right to know which stu­dents are not vac­ci­nated.

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