New York is fighting its worst outbreak of measles in decades

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By Maggie Fox

At Clarkstown Pediatrics in Nanuet, New York, babies are on an accelerated measles vaccination schedule, getting their first shots six months early and their second dose right away.

It’s part of a statewide effort to stop several outbreaks of measles from turning into an epidemic. The state has had 122 cases of the highly infectious virus since September, making it the worst year for measles since the 1990s.

Pockets of unvaccinated children have provided fertile ground for the measles virus to take hold. Although measles was eliminated in the U.S. the virus has been brought back by travelers to Israel, which has been battling an epidemic of measles for months. The victims: mostly members of close-knit Orthodox Jewish communities across the state.

“It’s a clear and present danger right here in our community,” said Dr. Douglas Puder, a pediatrician at Clarkstown Pediatrics. His practice is right in the middle of the biggest outbreak, in New York’s Rockland County. Last week, the county reported 105 cases of measles since the fall. More than 80 percent on average had not been vaccinated and just three cases had received both recommended doses of measles vaccine.

Local, state and federal health officials are battling to fight the outbreaks, which they believe have been fueled by a combination of anti-vaccine propaganda, lax enforcement of school requirements to vaccinate, and a growing trend among some families to turn away from standard medical care. As a result, some private schools in the county reported vaccination rates had fallen to as low as 50 percent. It takes a vaccination rate of 95 percent or higher to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Thus, the full-court press to get children vaccinated. “We have made an incredibly aggressive effort to address this,” said New York state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “This has been the worst measles outbreak in recent history in New York state.”

More than 13,000 people, mostly young children, have been vaccinated over the past three months at state and county clinics. More than 40,000 educational flyers have been distributed to homes in the hardest-hit communities, and more than two dozen schools and daycare centers closed because of low vaccination rates. Unvaccinated children have been required to stay home for their own protection until they get the shots.

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