Earlier this year, the Oklahoma State Department of Health investigated its first confirmed case of measles in Oklahoma in 20 years, a disease the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, three decades after the introduction of the Edmonston-Enders vaccine developed in 1968.
Measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease, typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes and leads to white spots inside the mouth and a rash on the neck, trunks, arms, legs, and feet. While the fever usually subsides and the rash fades, according to the CDC, severe complications such as pneumonia occur in one out of every 20 children infected with measles, and about one out of every 1,000 with measles develop brain swelling that can lead to convulsions, hearing loss, or intellectual disability.
From January 1 to July 15, 117 people from 13 states were reported to have had measles. That number grew from 70 people infected in 2016, and according to the CDC, the majority of people infected were unvaccinated.
A study conducted in 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that parents are refusing vaccinations for their children due to a belief that they are unnecessary, will cause the child discomfort, or will cause the child’s immune system to be burdened.
Despite the rise in refusal, Oklahoma students are required to be fully vaccinated or in the process of becoming fully vaccinated or approved for exemption before enrolling in school.
In Oklahoma, immunizing school-aged children is a requirement if that child will be attending any public or private school in the state under the Oklahoma Immunization Act, and the requirements are designated and reviewed by the Oklahoma State Board of Health.
Immunizations required by the State of Oklahoma include diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, influenza type B, measles, rubella, varicella, and hepatitis B. Diphtheria, once a disease that proved fatal for half of those infected, is almost unheard of with fewer than five cases reported in the U.S. over the last ten years, according to the CDC.
Vaccinations can be administered through a pediatrician, family practioner, or the local health department.
Parents wishing to delay or refuse vaccination can apply for an exemption certificate for medical, religious or personal reasons, but in the event of a disease outbreak, the Commissioner of Health has the authority to exclude students with exemptions from school.
The Oklahoma Immunization Act promotes what is known as herd immunity, which is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high portion of individuals is immune to the disease, specifically through vaccination.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, herd immunity benefits infants who are too young to be vaccinated, children with compromised immune systems due to diseases such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, or celiac disease, who cannot receive vaccinations and prevents the recurrence of diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and polio that were once untreatable.
For more information contact the Jackson County Health Department at 580-482-7308.
Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.