Primary Care 1

Carolyn Emanuel-McClain is an Aiken-based health care executive.

In the midst of National Infant Immunization Week, the Centers for Disease Control has declared that the U.S. is experiencing its worst measles outbreak in over a decade.

There have been over 704 reported cases of measles this year, according to the CDC – the highest number since 1994. Of the 23 states that have reported cases of measles to the CDC this year, the worst of the outbreak has been located in New York and California. Other states such as Georgia, Texas and Tennessee have also reported cases of measles this year. 

For Infant Immunization Week, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is urging parents to have their children inoculated against preventable diseases.

"National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) is an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States," reads a DHEC press release.

During this week, parents and health providers who raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination are recognized for their role in increasing the number of children "fully immunized against 14 preventable diseases before the age of 2," according to the press release.

Rural Health Services in Aiken is promoting immunization against diseases like measles. 

"It is a safe program to be immunized unless there’s a very high-risk reason for why they shouldn’t be immunized," said Rural Health Services CEO Carolyn Emanuel-McClain.

Emanuel-McClain said that only pregnant women and children who are critically ill should not be immunized due to health risks. Otherwise "all children" should be immunized against preventable diseases. 

"We have plenty of vaccines to accommodate Aiken and the surrounding areas," Emanuel-McClain said.

Infant Immunization Week will last until May 5.

Although some states have declared a measles outbreak, so far no cases have been reported this year in South Carolina, according to DHEC. There were six measles cases reported to the agency in 2018.

South Carolina schools are required to report to DHEC on whether their students are up to date on their vaccinations by the 45th day after the start of the school year. 

Of the 25,624 students enrolled in both private and public schools in Aiken County, 170 of those students are not vaccinated against preventable diseases on grounds of "religious exemptions."

Choosing not to vaccinate on religious grounds is an increasingly common trend. Other exemptions include health issues for those with weakened immune systems who cannot safely receive the vaccinations or for infants who are too young to receive certain vaccines.

According to DHEC, "personal beliefs" are not a valid reason for refusing to vaccinate against preventable diseases in South Carolina. This does not include religious beliefs. 

While encouraging vaccination, DHEC is also working with school health officials to help them identify early signs of measles, such as a rash which generally appears 14 days after exposure to the disease. The report lists that some students were suspended for not meeting immunization requirements. 

According to DHEC, measles is "highly contagious" and the virus can survive for up to two hours in airspace or on surfaces an infected person came into contact with. Nine out of 10 people who haven't been previously infected with or vaccinated against the disease will contract it after coming into contact with an infected person.

At least 93 to 98 percent of individuals in a community must be vaccinated against the disease to prevent it from spreading.

According to an email from DHEC's Chris Delcamp, The MMR vaccine is the "best protection" against measles. 

"The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective," said Delcamp. "Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective. Maintaining high levels of measles vaccination is important to prevent measles outbreaks and also protect those who are unvaccinated, or too young to be vaccinated."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.