Home Health Florida’s Stance on Measles Upends Expert Guidance

Florida’s Stance on Measles Upends Expert Guidance

by News7

Amid an ongoing measles outbreak in Florida possibly sparked by vaccine hesitancy, the state’s surgeon general Joseph Ladapo, MD, is contradicting public health guidance of encouraging quarantine of unvaccinated children. 

Rather than requesting that parents keep children unvaccinated against measles home from school or to get their children vaccinated, both critical tools in containing an outbreak, Ladapo has advised parents to do whatever they think is best. Pediatricians and infectious disease specialists fear a free-for-all will fuel the spread of the highly infectious virus, including in their own clinics. 

The outbreak has been traced to an elementary school in Weston and has so far sickened at least eight children, one of whom is younger than 5 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 91% of the 230,000-odd kindergarteners in Florida had received the requisite doses of the MMR vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella, for the 2022-2023 school year, below the 95% vaccination level which public health authorities believes confers herd immunity against measles. An estimated 4.5% of kindergarteners in the state have received an exemption for the vaccine, which prevents measles in 97% of the people who get the shots, for a lifetime. The first dose is given around age 13 months and the second when people are age 4 or 5 years and soon to enter school.

“If you’re vaccinated you have a very slim chance of getting the virus,” said Rana Alissa, MD, a pediatrician at University of Florida Health in Jacksonville.

An unvaccinated child has no protection against measles, and they could spread it to others merely by sneezing or touching a surface. In a school setting, infection could spread to a teacher who cannot receive the measles vaccine due to a weakened immune system, or the unvaccinated child could spread the virus at a pediatric clinic or hospital when they go to seek care for measles unless the clinic staff takes rigorous steps to separate the child from other children. Some children at the clinic won’t be able to get the measles vaccine either because of immunodeficiency or perhaps having had a bone marrow transplant. 

Assuming the unvaccinated child is healthy, their measles infection will run its course, and they will then be immune to the disease, Alissa said. But meanwhile, they could pose a significant risk to others. 

“We’re not worried about the unvaccinated kids who are very healthy. We’re worried about the adults who did not get vaccinated and who are very sick,” said Alissa, the vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “We’re worried about the little kids who are less than 13 months old. We’re worried about the kids with immunodeficiency disorders.” The Florida chapter of the AAP encourages parents to get their children vaccinated against measles amid the ongoing outbreak.

“I wish our surgeon general was on the same page as us,” Alissa added, noting that she thinks misplaced vaccine hesitancy has caused some parents to forego a safe and effective vaccine for their children.

Never Too Late to VaxxMeasles symptoms appear 10-14 days after exposure and can include sore throat, cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, fever, and blotchy skin rashes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of people who are unvaccinated against measles will be hospitalized for the virus if they contract it.

Given the incubation period for the virus, clinicians and public health officials recommend unvaccinated children isolate for 21 days after being exposed to measles at school. The advice applies to any unvaccinated child, whether because their parent opted against the vaccine or because they cannot safely receive the immunization.

This is the guidance that Surgeon General Ladapo is flouting.

“We have a public health system. They’re awesome. They’re the experts. Let’s use them,” Alissa noted. “Their recommendation is to keep the unvaccinated kids at home for 21 days when you have an outbreak.” 

“We’re not calling him doctor anymore,” said Andrew Pavia, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

“Getting your kids immunized before they enter school is so critical,” added Pavia, because the 21-day quarantine period is onerous for children and parents alike.

In a February 26 statement, Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said “well-established public health practice recommends that unvaccinated persons exposed to measles stay home for at least 21 days to prevent further growth of the outbreak. While this is undoubtedly disruptive to the persons impacted, imagine how much more disruptive it would be if measles takes hold again in the United States, spreading widely, and impacting children and communities across the entire nation.”

During an outbreak, it’s still possible to give a measles vaccine to a child who has not yet received the shots, Pavia stressed. But time is of the essence: Vaccination should occur within 72 hours of the first known measles case in a school.

“It’s not perfect, they may still get measles, but it will greatly decrease the severity,” Pavia said.

If some children won’t get vaccinated during an outbreak, their parents may call a pediatrician or hospital staff for help as measles symptoms take hold. Clinicians should advise everyone in the home who is older than 2 years to begin wearing N95 masks and gloves, Alissa said. And when the child comes into the clinic they should be examined in a separate room, ideally one with negative air pressure and frequent filtration, Alissa added. If not, any private room will do if nobody else uses the room for at least 2 hours afterward.

“Measles is phenomenally transmissible,” Pavia said. A person with the virus can infect 12 to 18 others who are not protected against the pathogen. 

Someone with a severe reaction to measles could get an injection of intramuscular immunoglobulin, Pavia said, although this tends to be uncomfortable and expensive.

“The vaccine works. We almost got rid of measles,” Alissa said, although parents who choose to send their unvaccinated children to school can do so if they choose to.

“The fear of every pediatrician is to have a child die from this,” she said. “People who are sick, please stay at home.” 

Pavia reported an advisory relationship with Sanofi-Pasteur regarding an RSV vaccine. Alissa reported no relevant financial conflicts of interest. 

Marcus A. Banks, MA, is a journalist based in New York City who covers health news with a focus on new cancer research. His work appears in Medscape Medical News, Cancer Today, The Scientist, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, Slate, TCTMD, and Spectrum. 

Source : Medscape

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