Preventing measles at public schools in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala - Two States are currently experiencing a measles outbreak, Washington and New York. Washington now has 36 confirmed cases, the highest number of infections since 1996. To contain the spread the governor declared a state of emergency. And in New York, 209 cases have been confirmed since October.

But it's also making its way south. Doctors have diagnosed three cases of measles in the Atlanta metro area.

So with the virus detected just a state away, WHNT News 19 found out how students in Alabama can be protected.

"It is one of the most contagious infectious diseases. If you're exposed to it and you're susceptible to it, you have a 90% chance that you're going to get it," UAB Medical Center's Dr. Claudia Gaviria said.

Alabama state law requires students to have their Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine, also called MMR vaccine,  to be able to attend public school.

Kids must have two MMR vaccinations by the age of six. There are only two reasons why a student would not be required to get this vaccination.

"There is a medical and religious exemption. In order to get a medical exemption, it must be a physician that medically exempts that child for whatever reason," Jennifer Ventress who works at the State school nurse administrator for nursing and health services for the Department of Education, said,

69% of students enrolled in public school have received their MMR vaccine, according to the state department of public health.  ADPH officials say that number might actually be higher, as some doctors may have not reported vaccinations to the health department. Officials say that students under the age of six who have not had their second vaccination will also affect that number.

The Department of Education has a goal of having 80% of students vaccinated.

Doctors say their goal is to have a vaccination rate of 95% to create herd immunity.

"That means that the majority of people aren't susceptible to the illness and that's when we can protect our kids. Because our kids cannot get the vaccine prior to one year of age and that's when the illness can hit our kids the most," Gaviria said.

Doctors say the MMR vaccine is safe and it is 97% effective at preventing measles.

Officials with the Madison City School District have confirmed with WHNT News 19 that some students in the district have not received their MMR vaccine because of health or religious reasons. But they say it's only a small percentage. We asked the Huntsville City School district about this and it has yet to get back to us.

The DOE does not have a policy on what to do if students show up to school without their required vaccinations. Ventress says it is up to the individual school district to determine its own policy.

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