Measles outbreak: Should Scarsdale parents be concerned?

Eight students within the Scarsdale School District are currently unvaccinated. But some of those families are reconsidering the MMR vaccine in light of the current situation, Eric Rauschenbach, director of Special Education and Student Services, told the board of education April 8.

As of this week, 186 cases of measles were confirmed in Rockland County, five of which led to ICU hospitalizations, and eight were recorded in Westchester County.

Currently 99.8 percent of the students within the Scarsdale School District are vaccinated and 100 percent of the students in the high school are vaccinated. In 2017, 92.5 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months and 94.1 percent of teenagers 13 to 17 years old were vaccinated against MMR in New York State, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles outbreak: Should Scarsdale parents be concerned? 2

New York State law requires all children to be vaccinated with two exceptions: those claiming medical or religious exemptions. Because there are so few unvaccinated children within the Scarsdale School District, the number of students who are religiously or medically exempt could not be provided by the district. Rauschenbach did confirm to the Inquirer that it is a “mix.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer held a press conference April 10 to confirm that eight children from northern Westchester had contracted measles. The children, who are from the Mount Kisco and Bedford communities, are thought to have contracted the infectious disease from attending family events in Rockland County and Brooklyn. Six of the children are siblings and none of children attended public schools, according to Latimer.

“Measles is preventable,” said Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler at the press conference. “There is a highly effective vaccine that works and it’s been used time and time again to stop outbreaks and the health department is able to provide the MMR vaccine to anyone who needs it free of charge.”

Unlike some other school districts in Westchester, Scarsdale has decided to allow students to travel to Rockland County for school events.

“We’ve talked to the district physician about restricting student travel to Rockland County,” said Rauschenbach. “He does not believe that’s a warranted precaution to take.”

Last month Rockland County Executive Ed Day declared a countywide state of emergency barring anyone who was unvaccinated against the measles and under the age of 18 from public places. However, acting state Supreme Court Judge Rolf Thorsen nullified the ban April 5 after dozens of parents challenged it in a lawsuit.

On April 16, Rockland County officials issued a new directive, the Communicable Disease and Exposure Exclusion Order, mandating anyone with measles to stay home and barring those exposed to the disease from public spaces throughout the county, with a $2,000 per day fine imposed on violators.

They also announced a ban on unvaccinated students from attending schools in two zip codes in Rockland where measles cases are the most concentrated. Exceptions will be made for students who have medical or religious exemptions.

If a child is up to date on the MMR vaccine, and there are no plans to travel internationally or live in close proximity to an affected community, an additional vaccination or boost is not required. Vaccinated children, over the age of 12 months, whose vaccines are up to date also do not need a vaccine, according to an email from the Westmed Medical Group on April 12. Westmed Medical Group also recommends that all unvaccinated adult patients should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine unless they are pregnant.

“I really can’t stress enough that vaccination is the key to stopping any measles outbreak,” said Amler. “So anyone who’s unsure of his or her vaccine status should reach out to their health care provider or the last school they attended.”

Dr. Scott Bookner, a pediatrician at the Scarsdale Pediatrics Associates, recommends all parents who have not already had their children vaccinated should immediately do so.

“There’s no antibiotics for measles because it’s viral,” said Bookner, who also served on the Health Education Advisory Council for the Scarsdale School District. “[Parents] should vaccinate their child because they are putting their own child at risk for deadly disease and they’re putting the rest of their community at risk for spreading a deadly disease.”

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