Vaccination outreach may reap rewards after measles outbreak – Mankato Free Press


MANKATO — The message from health officials during Minnesota’s biggest measles outbreak in decades was straightforward this year: Get vaccinated.

It’s too early to tell how many families of unvaccinated children heeded the call, but an uptick in childhood measles, mumps and rubella — or MMR — immunizations is expected as another school year starts.

Lynn Bahta of the Minnesota Department of Health’s immunization program said the response from previously unvaccinated families likely helped limit the outbreak to 79 cases.

“We think that response to vaccinate children probably contributed to containing the outbreak,” she said. “It was one of many factors, but that was one of them.”

The 79 measles cases found in the state this year topped the combined number of confirmed cases over the previous 20 years, but Bahta said it could’ve been far worse. An ongoing measles outbreak in Romania that has left dozens dead and thousands infected shows how rampant the illness can become among populations with low vaccination rates.

Most of the Minnesota cases occurred in the Twin Cities area, particularly impacting Somali-Americans who had higher than average unvaccinated rates. Outreach on immunizations was targeted toward communities with lower vaccination rates, although there was a renewed emphasis on the importance of vaccinations statewide this year.

Le Sueur County turned out to be the most southern point of the outbreak, with two cases confirmed there in May. During the outbreak, the state health department coordinated outreach with local health professionals, county public health teams and school districts, among others.

The Le Sueur cases were contained and didn’t lead to any further spread by the time the statewide outbreak was deemed finished in late August. The “all clear” came right around when school districts were gearing up to make sure incoming students were up to date on their immunizations.

School districts reach out to families who aren’t yet up to date every year, but all families in the Le Sueur-Henderson Public Schools District were sent information on measles specifically this year, according to a statement from school nurse Crystal Genelin.

“We did not receive many questions or concerns from families or staff following this contact,” she said. “We did, however, have several families who had previously chosen not to receive MMR vaccines, who then did opt to obtain them from their healthcare providers.”

While Le Sueur County is slightly below the state average in kindergarten vaccination rates, the vast majority — more than 9 in 10 — were still vaccinated for measles as of last year. State law requires children to be vaccinated before they come to school unless they’re exempted.

Genelin said district policy calls for students to be up to date or in the process of getting up to date to attend class.

“At the beginning of the school year each of these students are identified, families are contacted, and an individual plan put into place to bring them up to date in accordance with state law,” she said.

School districts then provide immunization data to the health department around December. The statistics are compiled then released each year to show each county’s vaccination rates among school-age children.

Bahta said outbreaks like the measles — and the outreach surrounding it — seem to have a way of changing parents’ risk perception. She said statewide vaccination rates in the mid-90s are already a good barrier to prevent diseases from spreading. Any further uptick would just strengthen the defense.  

“It’s our hope that this outbreak was a reminder to parents that if we let our guard down, these diseases can come back,” Bahta said. “It takes that ongoing vaccination effort to create that wall of protection against these diseases.”


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