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Digging Deeper: Wisconsin parents and doctors on ‘high-alert’ amid Measles outbreak

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MADISON (WKOW) — The number of measles cases in the United States has hit a 25-year record.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are more than 700 confirmed cases across the country. They also report that 71 percent of the confirmed cases are patients who were not vaccinated. About 37 percent of all cases involved children four years of age and younger.

While no cases have been reported in Wisconsin, health experts tell 27 News “it’s only a matter of time.”

It’s a concern for Dena Carreyn, whose child, Lyla, received a kidney transplant from her preschool teacher in 2017.

“Finally post transplants our life is back to some semblance of normalcy and she’s able to go to school like other kids,” said Carreyn.

Carreyn says in order for Lyla to keep living a normal life, she must take special medicine.

“So she cannot receive live vaccines ever again in her life,” said Carreyn. “If (Lyla) were to be affected with the measles it would potentially be a much more serious case and could be life-threatening.”

Carreyn says Lyla relies on herd immunity to keep her safe.

Public health experts say herd immunity works when between 90 and 95 percent of the population is vaccinated. It creates a buffer of healthy people around those who can’t get immunized.

“They are very dependent on the goodwill of others to be immunized that they’re not being exposed to things continuously,” said Dr. James Conway, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, and professor at UW-Madison.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the number of Wisconsin school-aged children who met the minimum immunization requirements was over 92 percent, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. In the 2018-2019 school year, that number has fallen to 91.9 percent.

“Overall our immunization rates are still pretty good… but we have pockets of groups of people who are choosing to not vaccinate their kids,” said Dr. Conway. “It literally just takes one person coming to contact with another person to introduce [Measles] in the community.”

In Wisconsin, parents have the right to exempt their children from vaccinations for medical, religious, or personal reasons.

The percentage of students with Personal Conviction Waivers have increased from 1.2 percent to 4.6 percent in the last 20 years, according to Wisconsin DHS.

In Lafayette County, health director Elizabeth Townsend says they’re seeing more and more parents filling out the waivers.

Townsend says a combination of parents choosing to opt-out, an Amish population who doesn’t find it necessary, and new people moving from other countries where vaccines aren’t readily available are fueling the increase.

“In Darlington alone, we saw I think a 30 percent increase last year in new students coming in,” said Townsend.

Dr. Conway says social media talk and misinformation is also helping increase in the number of parents choosing to opt-out of vaccines.

“People need to trust that vaccines are safe,” said Dr. Conway. “The process is very closely scrutinized and that it’s constantly under vigilance.”

Conway adds the risk of diseases like Measles “far outweighs any risk from even mild side effects from the vaccines.”

On April 30, a bill was re-introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly that would eliminate the personal conviction waiver from Wisconsin’s vaccination requirement. Both Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Medical Society have both voiced support for the bill.

Still, as the outbreak continues to grow across the United States, Carreyn is urging others to vaccinate their kids.

“My worst fear is that the outbreak travels to Wisconsin,” said Carreyn.” We know that there are kids [at Lyla’s school] are unvaccinated…then we have to make that hard decision about maybe keeping her home.”

Dr. Conway recommends for anyone concerned about vaccine safety to ask their provider about specific concerns and look for reliable sources, such as the CDC or Immunization Action Coalition website.