Amid state measles outbreak, county ups vaccine intake

FILE- In this March 27, 2019, file photo, measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y. On Monday, May 6, 2019, U.S. health officials said 60 more U.S. measles cases were reported the previous week, driving up a 2019 tally that is already the nation’s highest in 25 years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

OSWEGO — In response to New York state’s most significant measles outbreak since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, local health officials are gearing up vaccinations to inoculate private citizens and public employees against the onset of an outbreak.

County legislators recently passed a resolution to set aside $5,580 to order 90 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine — 60 for county officials and 30 for the general public — to bring the county into state mandated vaccination requirements.

Health officials said in an informational memorandum that most vaccine costs will be reimbursed through insurance billing and any costs not covered by insurance reimbursement will be eligible for state aid reimbursement.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies measles as a highly contagious virus that can cause serious respiratory symptoms, fever, rash and even deafness or encephalitis in severe cases.

As of June 14, 334 confirmed cases of measles have been confirmed in the state, excluding New York City, according to the latest report from the NYSDOH — 267 cases of measles have been reported, 49 in Orange County, 18 in Westchester County, eight in Sullivan County, one in Suffolk County and one in Greene County.

Declared eradicated by health experts in 2000, the measles virus made a comeback throughout the state in 2018, tied to a trip to Israel during the country’s measles outbreak combined with homegrown anti-vaccination sentiments.

Roughly half of all confirmed cases occurred in children aged 4-18, said  the NYSDOH report.

Federal health guidelines from CDC say an immunity threshold of at least 95 percent among human populations is necessary to guard against measles. The CDC says the measles virus has a 90 percent infection rate for those without the vaccine.

The local budget re-allocation comes after county health officials received an April 18 “Dear Administrator Letter” from the NYSDOH, distributed to diagnostic and treatment centers throughout the state. The letter mandates all personnel born on or after Jan. 1, 1957 to be immunized against measles.

The Oswego County Legislature approved the budget re-allocation last week at its June 13 meeting.

“We need to buy some more measles vaccines because in the last few months the state Health Department is requiring our department staff, frontline and supporting staff, get updated measles, mumps and rubella vaccines,” Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said. “Summer is coming and the kids are going to summer camp and so we are watching it.”

The county had a close call last year, Huang said, when a student attending a local school was suspected of having measles, but since the student’s parents declined to have the student tested for measles, the health department couldn’t officially confirm it as an active case.  

Jodi Martin, supervising public health nurse at the county health department, said if the measles outbreak — or any infectious disease — pushes into Oswego County, department of health officials would set up a “pod,” a quarantined space for the local population to receive vaccinations.

“The people distributing those vaccines are going to have to be vaccinated in the event of an outbreak,” Martin said. “But that hasn’t happened nor do I see it happening in the future.”

The other 30 dosages will be for the general public and local employers, who have increased their demand for treatment from the health department in the last year, Martin said.

“We’ve been seeing more people from the general public wanting to get another MMR vaccine,” she said.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing into law last week a bill that eliminates the state’s religious exemptions from vaccines for public school students, Martin said the state is headed in the “right direction” when it comes to firewalling the population against deadly disease.

“Some people can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons such as allergies so it’s important to vaccinate everyone around them through heard immunity,” Martin said.

If anybody needs an MMR vaccine or if they’re unsure of their immunity status, Martin said people should first contact their primary care physician for a blood test or they can come to the health department’s walk-in clinic at 70 Bunner St. in Oswego. 

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