Measles immunization records fall below preferred prevention levels in WI

SUAMICO, Wis. (WBAY) - As thousands of kids head back to the classroom this week, one of the questions parents are normally asked to submit is an updated immunization sheet.

MMR vaccine (WBAY photo)

But new data show more parents are opting out of vaccinations.

The Journal Sentinel is reporting almost 50,000 students returned to school in Wisconsin this week with vaccine exemptions.

Health officials are worried because the number of measles cases is growing across the country. While there are no confirmed measles cases in Wisconsin, the state has looked into more than 300 reports over the past year.

Due to the contagious nature of measles, some health officials say it’s only a matter of time before it strikes here.

When you go to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website and search immunization data, you can look at each school’s immunization data. There is even a number that shows you the percent of students who met the minimum immunization requirements last year, the most recent data available.

One of those requirements is the Mumps, Measles and Rubella vaccine (MMR) because it’s extremely contagious.

“Just by being in the room where measles was, you can get it. You don't have to be in contact with the person to get it,” said Jaclyn Steinbarger, a physician assistant with BayCare Clinic. “The virus can stay alive in the air for up to 2 hours after it has been exposed. You are contagious about 4 days before the rash and 4-5 days after the rash, so therefore, people are out spreading it around and they don’t even know they are sick yet.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, in order to prevent the measles from impacting those who are not allowed to get the MMR vaccine due to medical reasons, immunization rates should be between 92 and 95 percent.

However, 2018 data show that for 5 and 6 years olds with two doses of the MMR, none of Wisconsin’s 72 counties meet that threshold. Brown County is at 81 percent, Outagamie County at 85 percent and Door County at 76 percent.

“We know that two doses of the MMR vaccine is optimal protection, and we're at 81 percent with that. There are a number of children that have one dose of MMR so they do have some protection,” said Ann Steinberger, public health nurse manager with Brown County Health Department.

If we look at that data, Brown County would be at 90 percent for kids getting their first dose of MMR in 2018, but health officials said they would still like to see the numbers increase.

“Everyone has their freedom to make their own decisions and I think that needs to be supported but people need to make educated decisions,” said Steinbarger. “The risk of the disease is much worse than the risk of the vaccination.”

If you have any questions about the MMR vaccine or other immunizations, talk to your local health department or primary care provider.

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