Staying healthy: Vaccinations key for containing measles

HANCOCK — Eliminated from the United States in 2000, measles is making a comeback.

The vaccine is 97 percent effective for people who get two doses as recommended — once between 12 and 15 months old, and again between 4 and 6 years old.

That does not prevent unvaccinated people from contracting the virus, which is spread both through droplets that survive and through the air, said Terry Frankovich, medical director of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. It is highly contagious; about 90 percent of people without immunity who come in contact with a stricken person will become infected. In addition to vaccination, people can also become immune through previously contracting of the virus.

Symptoms start with high fever, cough, congestion and pink eye. Then comes a full-body rash.

Children may go on to develop pneumonia or encephalitis. In a small number of cases — about one or two per 1,000 — it can be fatal.

“The key thing with measles is there’s no specific treatment for measles when you have it,” Frankovich said. “It’s simply supportive care. It makes intervention all the more important.”

Frankovich is encouraging Copper Country residents who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so.

More than 220 cases have occurred in the United States this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thursday, Michigan officials confirmed a measles case in Oakland County, where a visitor from Israel stopped at several locations last week.

Frankovich urged parents hesitant about vaccines to read information from credible sources, such as the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics or their health care provider.

“I think if every parent had good information about vaccine safety and effectiveness, parents would choose to vaccinate, and the majority of them do,” Frankovich said. “But unfortunately, having even smaller percentages of the population unvaccinated leaves us vulnerable, and leaves the people who cannot be vaccinated vulnerable.”

For “herd immunity” to work — in which people who are unable to get vaccines are kept safe by the sheer number of those who do — about 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated.

Several local schools are below that level for kindergarten and seventh grades, according to 2017 state immunization rates. Of 102 opt-outs in those grades in the Copper Country, all but three were for philosophical reasons. Michigan is one of 19 states to allow such waivers.

Frankovich said changes in state law have improved things. Since 2015, parents trying to get a non-medical waiver for their child must first visit their health department for educational session on vaccines.

“I think we have a responsibility to each other in the community,” Frankovich said. “We share public spaces, our children attend schools together, and what helps to keep my child safe helps to keep your child safe.”

Insurance should cover the cost of measles shots, Frankovich said. If not, the health department has vaccine programs that can often assist them.

“If people are concerned about cost, they should come in and talk to us,” she said.