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Guest columnists Kerry-Beth Garvey and Jenny Meyer: ‘As nurses, we know vaccines work’

  • What is measles and how can you prevent it? CDC

  • A poster released by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is seen as experts answer questions regarding the measles response and the quarantine orders in Los Angeles Friday, April 26.

Published: 5/14/2019 10:08:14 AM

We are honored to be considered among the world’s most trusted professionals, and we are glad to speak to you about measles vaccination. As nurses, we understand that you want to keep your families safe from harm and may have concerns about vaccines, particularly the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. We want you to feel comfortable seeking information, and we respect your right and desire to make informed health decisions for your families.

By now, it’s well known that, as of May 6, almost 800 cases of measles have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. A major factor in this increase is the fact that vaccination rates have decreased. As school and public health nurses, we know this creates heightened risk for vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) outbreaks, and if measles enters our community, our community is at risk.

Measles is highly contagious because it is spread by respiratory secretions through speaking, coughing and sneezing, and is contagious for more than four days before symptoms appear. The virus can live in the air and on surfaces for several hours. An infected person on a bus or in a room can unknowingly expose everyone who has been on that bus or in that room within a four-hour period, even if the sick person is no longer there or was there for as little as 10 minutes.

We know that up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to measles will become infected, that 1 in 4 will be hospitalized, 1 in 10 will have permanent hearing loss, 1 in 1,000 will develop encephalitis, and 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die. Children under 12 months old and those with compromised immune systems cannot be immunized against measles — and are at most risk for getting sick. We know that just one dose of MMR vaccine will protect you and your loved ones with 93 percent effectiveness and two doses at 97 percent.

As nurses, we know vaccines work. They protect our communities through herd immunity, which protects young children and those with compromised immune systems. Measles is best prevented when herd immunity is between 90 and 95 percent. We know that while Massachusetts generally has high herd immunity, Hampshire and Berkshire counties have pockets of lower immunity. That places us at risk for an outbreak. The University of Pittsburgh’s FRED Measles Simulator demonstrates how lowered vaccination coverage would affect a community.

As nurses, we know that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism and that mercury (thimerosal) was removed from all childhood vaccines in 2003. Importantly, we know that religious leaders from Jewish, Islamic and Catholic faiths support vaccination and clearly state that vaccination does not violate religious rulings or violate dietary laws. Dietary laws refer only to consumables, not to medical treatments, injections or prosthetics, such as valves. Vaccines are highly purified — only scant, isolated cells or traces of preservative and animal DNA is detectable in some vaccines (thus not all vaccines are vegan). We know that vaccines are not 100 percent perfect, that adverse events do happen and that live vaccines may pose more risks to specific high-risk groups of people. We also know that vaccines save lives and are safer than the illnesses they prevent.

Two doses of measles provides the best protection against measles. Persons born between 1963 and 1967, and before 1989, may not be protected because, until 1989, it was not standard to provide two doses of vaccine, and during these years the vaccine used was less effective than the current MMR vaccine. Persons born before 1957 are considered immune to measles and need not seek vaccine. Most medical offices have online patient portals, allowing you to check your vaccination status at your convenience. Blood tests can determine if you have sufficient immunity.

Vaccine is available at retail pharmacies without an appointment and at physician offices. Those who are immune-compromised or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons should contact their physician’s office for advice: You may wish to wear a mask in situations where you may be exposed. General “health smart” behaviors can be helpful: Wash your hands often and disinfect commonly touched items like faucets, doorknobs, keyboards and phones.

As nurses, we encourage you to speak to your health care provider about measles. And, if you do selectively choose which vaccines you and your family receive, please choose to protect yourselves from measles. Most of all, we wish you and yours well, and we thank you for trusting us. We are honored and proud to serve you and our community.

Kerry-Beth Garvey, MSN, RN, CNL, is associate director of the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness at Smith College. Jenny Meyer, RN, is the public health nurse for the City of Northampton.

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