On any given day, more than 4,000 people pass through the library at California State University-Los Angeles. On April 11, one of them had measles. The building has only one entrance, which means that anyone who entered or exited the library within two hours of that person’s visit potentially was exposed to one of the most contagious diseases on Earth. It’s the stuff of public health nightmares: Everyone at the library between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. that day had to be identified, warned and possibly quarantined. Measles is so contagious that up to 90% of people close to an infected person who are not protected by a vaccine or previous case of the disease will become infected.
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.
While New Mexico has so far been spared from the latest outbreak of measles, the increasing number of local schoolchildren who haven’t been vaccinated is cause for concern as the highly contagious disease afflicts surrounding states. The Santa Fe New Mexican last week cited figures from the Department of Health showing a 17 percent increase since 2012 in the number of vaccine exemptions requested by parents. From the article: New Mexico law allows parents to request vaccination exemptions for their children based on medical need or religious beliefs. The exemptions registered with the Department of Health cover all vaccines, not specifically measles. But the recent measles outbreak is reason to raise awareness, said state Health Secretary Retta Ward.