'We don't want to go backwards': WI health officials encourage measles vaccine after outbreaks in other states

NOW: ’We don’t want to go backwards’: WI health officials encourage measles vaccine after outbreaks in other states

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning health departments to be on alert for measles cases.

The warning comes after an outbreak on the east coast.

According to the CDC, there were 23 confirmed cases of measles in the United States between Dec. 1 and Jan.23.

Many of those cases are in Philadelphia, among children who had not received the measles vaccine.

"The cases out east really serve as a strong reminder that we can take steps here in Milwaukee to protect ourselves and our community," said Dr. Mike Totoraitis, commissioner of health at the Milwaukee Health Department.

So far, no measles cases have been reported in Wisconsin in 2024.

The most recent data shows the state's vaccination rate at 82% for children under two. The city of Milwaukee's rate is similar.

"Our focus right now at this point is to really increase our vaccination rate to up to closer to 95%" Totoraitis said.

The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is required for Wisconsin public school students, unless a medical, religious or philosophical exemption is given.

Still, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) says most students are vaccinated.

"For the last school year for which we have data, nearly 90% of children received all of the required school immunizations," said Stephanie Schauer, immunizations program manager at WI DHS.

The nation saw a decrease in immunizations during the pandemic, and health officials say effects are still lingering.

"Part of that was born out of families not going to the doctors as frequently because of isolation." Totoraitis said.

If not treated early, measles can be deadly. It typically starts with a high fever, then a rash.

"Individuals with measles are considered contagious four days before the rash starts to four days after, and so you can see why it's a little bit on the sneaky side," Schauer said.

Schauer reminds Wisconsin residents that the MMR vaccine has been used safely for over 50 years.

"In the pre-vaccine era in 1963, here in Wisconsin we had over 68,000 measles cases and 19 deaths, and that is something we want to avoid," Schauer said. "We don't want to go backwards."

There is an opportunity for children to receive their measles vaccine in Milwaukee this weekend.

The Milwaukee Health Department will provide childhood immunizations at the Milwaukee Public Schools Kindergarten Enrollment Fair on Saturday, Feb. 3, at South Division High School.

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