Nearly 50,000 Wisconsin children unvaccinated for measles as school year begins

The number of measles cases in the United States is at its highest number in 27 years. There are no confirmed cases in Wisconsin, but experts said close to 50,000 children in the state are not vaccinated.

Health experts say the measles virus was nearly eliminated in 2000. However, cases have climbed in recent years.

Another statistic that has grown is the number of children who are not vaccinated. Local health officials said everyone should be concerned.

“It’s something that all nurses in every district should be watching,” said Katie Drury, director of nursing services for the School District of Onalaska.

As children go back to school, the potential risk for a measles case to pop up grows with each passing day.

“When a child developers measles, the potential for a very serious illness is always there,” said Dr. Charles Peters, consultant pediatrician with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Peters said this shouldn’t be a problem facing our country.

“It is preventable,” he said.

The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, or MMR, helps make sure children are immune from this potentially fatal disease.

The MMR is normally a necessity for students, but Drury said parents have a choice on the matter.

“Students can be exempt from vaccinations for personal convictions, religious reasons or for medical reasons,” she said.

As first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the number of exemptions for those reasons has climbed by more than 9 percent over the past three school years.

“The anti-vaccination groups have definitely been spreading misleading information,” Drury said.

One common fear people have is the idea that this vaccination causes autism, which studies have proven wrong.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of people who are well-known in the public eye who continue to say there is an association and many people are misled,” Peters said.

Officials like to see immunizations rates around 92-95 percent to provide herd immunity, helping prevent a widespread outbreak.

Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, 40 failed to hit 80 percent in 2018.

“It really is just a matter of time until we start seeing cases,” Peters said.

It is why local health officials are asking parents to get their child vaccinated before the community has a serious health problem.

La Crosse County had an MMR vaccination rate of 89 percent last year for children 2 years of age, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Onalaska school health officials said they have consistent cooperation from parents every year.

They say they will have data on how many students who are not vaccinated after day 40 of the school year.

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