The measles immunization rate for Ohio children ages 4 to 6 — children who have received the recommended two doses of MMR vaccine — is 92 percent, according to the Erie County Health Department statistics.
While children in Ohio schools are “required” to get vaccinations, the state is one of just 17 where law allows both “philosophical” and religious exceptions, allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children.
Some are utilizing the exemptions in Huron County, where the overall MMR vaccination rates for the locally documented incoming kindergartners is nearly 7 percent lower than the state average. Norwalk is 10 percent lower.
For the 2018-2019, the Huron County Public Health (HCPH) school immunization report shows that Huron County had about 775 students enrolled in kindergarten. Of those, about 85.88 percent were completely up to date with all the vaccinations required for school entry.
While some individual school districts in Huron County have a good immunization rate for children, others don’t. South Central and Western Reserve local schools had the most children with up-to-date MMR vaccinations, while Norwalk city and Catholic schools had the lowest throughout the county, with less than 80 percent being vaccinated upon entering kindergarten.
The incoming kindergarten compliance rate for the MMR vaccinations for each of the local school districts is listed below from highest to lowest vaccination rate:
• South Central: 98.4 percent
• Western Reserve: 98.4
• Edison: 96
• Bellevue city and Immaculate Conception School: 92.3
• Willard city, St. Francis and Celeryville schools: 89.9
• Monroeville and St. Joseph schools: 89.4
• New London: 81
• Norwalk city and Norwalk Catholic schools: 79.7
What’s the big deal?
This could be a cause for concern as a recent measles outbreak in Washington shows the danger when measles immunization doesn’t cover as many people as possible.
As of March 4, there were 71 confirmed cases of measles in Washington, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Health officials there have responded by stepping up vaccination efforts. A new measles outbreak also has begun in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community.
“To maintain herd immunity, communities have to vaccinate enough residents to protect the small number of people who cannot receive a vaccination for medical reasons,” said Ashley Franks, Erie County Health Department epidemiologist.
“Experts agree that between 92 percent and 95 percent of children should receive two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to maintain herd immunity against measles,” Franks said.
Only half of the Huron County schools are meeting that immunity threshold.
Dangers of the disease
Huron County has not had a single case of measles in more than decade, according to Jessica Colvin, HCPH public information officer. However, there is still cause for vaccination.
Norwalk High School senior Ethan Lindenberger recently made national news when he turned 18 and insisted on obtaining vaccinations. Lindenberger went as far as testifying about his case before a U.S. Senate committee last week.
When he was a minor, Lindenberger’s parents blocked him for getting shots.
“I saw some really overwhelming evidence that was in defense of vaccines and when I turned 18, I pursued that route,” Lindenberger said.
Colvin said measles is “a very contagious, vaccine-preventable disease.”
“If one person has the disease, nine out of 10 of the people around him or her will become infected if they are not vaccinated. The disease can easily spread through unvaccinated populations. It’s more than just a rash and a fever. Measles can cause serious complications, especially for children younger than 5 years old. Severe complications of the measles include pneumonia, swelling of the brain (encephalitis), deafness and even death in some cases.”
Colvin said about one in four people throughout the United States who get the measles will be hospitalized and one out of every 1,000 measles patients will develop brain swelling which could lead to brain damage.
Another one or two out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with medical treatment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Jackson of Tandem Media Network contributed to this story.