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Health Department has one word for measles: vaccinate

With national and local news swirling about measles making a comeback in the United States, SNN spoke to the Kent County Health Department for some facts. Steve Kelso, marketing and communications manager for the health department, has one important tip.

“Get vaccinated,” Kelso said. “A lot of people think that measles is a harmless childhood disease. It is not. It can be deadly. I think a lot of people living today have never seen the impact of measles, diphtheria or polio and we tend to think of them as yesterday types of issues.”

From January 1 to June 6 this year, 1,022 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 28 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994. Measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Yet there were 44 confirmed cases in Michigan this year, all on the east side, mainly in Oakland County.

Many thanks to Kent County Health Department for sponsoring SNN
Many thanks to Kent County Health Department for sponsoring SNN

There are currently no cases in Kent County, but in early spring there was a visitor for a short period of time who was later diagnosed with measles. Exposure chances here were minimal. Those who may have come in contact with this visitor were notified.

“Some people are excluded (from vaccinations), some have legitimate medical contraindications, but almost everyone should be vaccinated,” Kelso said.

Mary Wisinski, immunization program supervisor for the health department, explained, “People who can’t get vaccinated due to illness or disease may have a more severe case of the disease. It is important to vaccinate those around them to protect the vulnerable from getting sick.”

Wisinski said if a child has a true medical condition that prevents him or her from getting a vaccination, the parents would need a medical waiver from the physician to meet Michigan school requirements. Any other reason means parents would need a waiver from the health department, which requires them to meet with a staff person to learn about vaccinations and voice their concerns. More information on non-medical waivers.

School Preparedness

Although measles cases have so far been contained to the east side of the state, how should schools prepare in Kent County for the fall?

“Schools need to be aware of the vaccination status of all their students,” Wisinski said. “In the event of a vaccine-preventable disease in the school, the health department works with the individual school to verify the case, help with a parent letter if needed, and give advice about exclusion.

“Teachers and parents both want information on vaccine schedules, vaccine safety and signs and symptoms of the disease. Parents can get their questions answered from a health-care provider or local health department.

“We work with schools to send information out to parents about vaccines during kindergarten roundup and end-of-the-year communications.”

Wisinski advised parents to make appointments for necessary vaccines sooner rather than later.

MMR Vaccine

The best protection against measles, according to the Health Department, is the MMR — measles, mumps and rubella — vaccine, which gives long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. For the best protection, a child needs two doses of MMR:

  • The first dose at 12 to 15 months of age
  • The second dose at 4 to 6 years
  • Infants traveling internationally should receive one dose if they are 6-11 months of age.

More information is available in these documents from the CDC: Measles Signs and Symptoms and Are You Protected?

The Kent County Health Department has the MMR vaccine available at all four of its clinic locations, by appointment only. For more information, call 616-632-7200 or contact your primary healthcare provider.

Visit AccessKent for more local and Michigan information.

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.


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