The New Mexico Department of Health confirmed the state’s first case of measles in nearly five years. Last week, DOH said a one-year-old child from Sierra County is the first New Mexican infected with the disease since December of 2014. “We have worked with the clinic that treated the child and the patient’s family to identify people who may have been exposed so we can prevent more cases of the disease,” DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced Friday. “We encourage everyone to check whether you and your family have been vaccinated to protect against measles. Immunization is the best tool we have to protect people from measles.”
Measles is highly infectious and was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000, thanks to the development of a vaccine in the 1960s and a concerted effort by the Centers for Disease Control beginning in the late 1970s.
State Rep. Deborah Armstrong watched with interest while California debated changes to the law on exemptions vaccinations for children. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would give California one of the strictest laws regarding vaccination exemptions. The other two states with similarly strict laws are West Virginia and Mississippi; Mississippi has the highest rate of vaccinated children in the nation. “I’m glad to see that there was support and recognition that something needs to be done to not have exemptions be really easy, but for legitimate reasons to be able to have an exemption,” the Albuquerque Democrat told New Mexico Political Report in a short phone interview on Wednesday morning. Armstrong introduced legislation in this year’s New Mexico legislative session that would close a loophole in the state’s vaccination law.
A bill by a freshman Democrat would close what she describes a loophole in vaccinations. With a rise in the number of unvaccinated, New Mexico and other states have seen outbreaks of Measles, a disease that can be deadly that had largely been stopped because of vaccinations. Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is the bill’s sponsor and told New Mexico Political Report that the national attention helped bring momentum to the idea. “There’s national attention on it,” she said. “As a result of that national attention, everyone talking about it, some pediatricians approached me that the time is right to try and deal with this, the current exemptions.”
Following his testimony at the Roundhouse this afternoon in support of a proposal to increase the widespread use of heart defibrillator devices, New Mexico Political Report caught up with Dr. Barry Ramo to get his take on the measles outbreak still spreading across several states. Utah, Arizona and Colorado have all seen cases of the disease, and while an isolated case in New Mexico in December was unrelated to the current outbreak, state health officials are on high alert. Santa Fe Public Schools announced last week that students whose vaccines aren’t up-to-date and who lack a legitimate state exemption won’t be allowed to attend classes. Ramo didn’t mince words in his criticism of folks who refuse to immunize their children, adding that unvaccinated kids aren’t the only ones at risk for highly contagious (and often fatal) diseases like measles—so are others with compromised immune systems.
New Mexico has seen a rise since 2012 in the number of children receiving Department of Health exemptions from vaccines for religious or medical reasons. According to the state’s application, exemptions require written certification from a doctor “stating that the physical condition of the child is such that immunization would seriously endanger the life or health of the child.” Religious exemptions for minors, on the other hand, require a signed and notarized affidavit from either a church leader or the child’s legal guardian affirming that vaccination conflicts with their religious beliefs.