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Girl getting vaccine in arm

Health leaders call on clinicians to watch for measles cases, urge families to get children vaccinated

February 22, 2024

Federal health officials and the AAP Florida Chapter president are emphasizing the importance of measles vaccination as case counts rise.

“Measles, one of the most contagious diseases, has made me very concerned,” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel L. Levine, M.D., FAAP, said during a National Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting Thursday.

Measles is highly contagious and can be especially dangerous in young children. The disease can result in complications like pneumonia, brain damage and deafness, and can be fatal. About one in five unvaccinated people in the U.S. who gets measles is hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“While most children in the United States are up to date with their measles vaccination, too many of our children still need protection,” Dr. Levine said.

In Florida, six cases of measles have been linked to Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, just west of Fort Lauderdale, according to local health officials and school leaders. The first case involving a third-grade student was reported Feb. 16.

In response, the Florida Chapter posted information on its website and social media platforms to explain the importance of vaccination and what pediatricians can do to help spread awareness.

The AAP and Project Firstline also have published a printable flyer to guide practices in caring for patients who present with a febrile rash illness or suspected measles.

The AAP and CDC recommend children receive their first dose of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age and a second dose between 4 and 6 years.

“Measles is a serious illness,” said Florida Chapter President Thresia B. Gambon, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP. “The best protection is prevention with a vaccine. If children are fully vaccinated, they have very good protection against the illness. The vast majority, more than 98%, do mount immunity once vaccinated.”

Measles is transmitted through contact with infectious droplets or by airborne spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC. The virus can remain in the air for up to two hours. While a letter from the Florida surgeon general deferred decisions on student attendance to parents and guardians, Dr. Gambon urged families to take precautions based on vaccination status.

“If the kids are vaccinated, they should feel relatively safe going to school,” Dr. Gambon said. “It’s the parent’s choice whether they attend school. For children that are unvaccinated, the parents have a couple options. They can isolate for 21 days or get a vaccination for their child. There are kids who cannot get vaccinated if they suffer from chronic illness or their immune system is not competent or they’re undergoing chemotherapy. They should absolutely contact their doctors in terms of prevention or treatment.”

Dr. Gambon said she hopes the outbreak will remind families to rely on trusted sources when dealing with infectious diseases and prevention.

“If kids are sick or something like this happens, they really should be reaching out to their local experts,” Dr. Gambon said. “We know families tend to have a lot of faith in the people who take care of their kids, which is a wonderful thing. We just recommend that if they have questions or need advice, they contact their providers or another reliable source such as the CDC.”

In addition to Florida, cases have been confirmed this year in Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

A recent CDC study found 93% of kindergartners were fully vaccinated against measles during the 2022-’23 school year, ranging from 81% in Idaho to at least 98% in Mississippi. It was the third consecutive year the vaccination rate was below the Healthy People 2030 target of 95%, and officials estimated about 250,000 kindergartners remain at risk.

Dr. Levine encouraged health care providers to give families a “strong and clear recommendation” for vaccination. She recommended strategies such as school requirements, patient reminders, standing orders and incentives to overcome hesitancy.

In addition, she said clinicians should be on alert for patients with measles symptoms like febrile rash, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis, especially if they recently traveled abroad.



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