New York City

Schumer calls for free measles vaccine for kids and adults

Disease has infected more than 100 people across U.S.

February 9, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Pediatrician Charles Goodman talks with mom Carmen Lopez, 37, holding her 18-month-old son, Daniel after being vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at his office in California, where the current outbreak began. AP Photo by Damian Dovarganes

Sen. Chuck Schumer is urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make measles shots free and easy to obtain for schoolchildren and adults across the country.

Schumer (D-NY) made the request on Sunday, noting that the disease, which is making a comeback, has infected at least 102 people in 15 different states, including New York.

“It’s frightening that a harmful and very dangerous virus that was once eliminated in the U.S. is now back and moving fast,” Schumer said in a statement. “As one of the most contagious diseases out there, we need to do everything possible to prevent the measles from spreading before it becomes endemic.”

The recent outbreak started in December 2014 when at least 40 people who visited or worked at Disneyland theme park in California contracted the disease.

Children should receive two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The CDC recommends children receive their first dose at age 12 to 15 months and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. Schumer wants to make the vaccine available at schools and health clinics, much like the flu shot.

 Some parents, however, are failing to get their children vaccinated. Reasons range from financial to ignorance about the severity of the disease — or because of skepticism about vaccination. Roughly 1 in 12 children in the United States do not receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine on time, according to the CDC. Last year, the United States experienced a record number of measles cases, with 644 cases from 27 states.

Doctors say this failure could lead to outbreaks in vulnerable people, including infants and those who are immunocompromised.

Dr. Edna Anne Pytlak, a pediatrician in Brooklyn Heights, was emphatic that kids must receive their measles immunizations.

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A child who is not vaccinated can develop “a horrific case of the measles if they catch it when they get older,” she said. “A teen with measles can develop stronger, more intense symptoms.”

Though some cases can be on the mild side, measles can range in severity, “from a five-day raging fever to a five-day raging fever with complications,” Dr. Pytlak said.

“It’s very contagious,” she emphasized. “Very few people have even seen the disease. If it’s in a community with no ‘memory’ of the disease, kids are more likely to get worse cases.

“It’s a public responsibility to be vaccinated right now,” she added. “Before 1967 [when a more effective vaccine came online] there were not so many people taking immunosuppressive drugs – people on chemo and taking medications — and not as much airplane travel.”

If a person with measles is on a plane, they could pass it to unsuspecting people who are immunocompromised, or expose a child, Pytlak said. “It’s a public health concern.”

Though most parents who come to her practice vaccinate their children, “We have a handful of parents who don’t,” she said.

Measles symptoms appear seven to fourteen days after a person is infected. An infected individual spreads measles by coughing or sneezing, which releases the virus into the air for up to two hours.

According to the New York City Department of Health (DOH) about one third of reported measles cases have at least one complication. Health problems can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, seizures and infections of the brain and nervous system. In some cases, measles can cause death. In pregnant women, measles can cause miscarriages and premature labor.

A measles outbreak in New York City in 2014 resulted in dozens of cases.

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