As measles cases continue to be reported in record levels nationwide, some communities are finding they are better prepared than others.

On May 10, the Centers for Disease Control reported 839 cases of measles across 23 states had been reported so far this year, the largest outbreak of measles in the United States in 25 years.

Some cities, including Milwaukee, have cause for concern. According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, state records indicate that some 15 percent of students in Milwaukee Public Schools did not receive all required vaccinations this school year, leaving more than 11,000 students exposed to the risk of contracting measles and other diseases.

In Kenosha, state records indicate that the measles, mumps and rubella immunization — MMR — is not as strong in the county as it is in the city, specifically for the Kenosha Unified School district, according to local health officials.

In Kenosha County in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the percentage of children age 5-18 with at least two doses of MMR was 76 percent, said Hortensia Aiello, communicable diseases and clinical services team lead for the Kenosha County Health Department.

Students in the Kenosha Unified School District, however, are immunization ready, with some 92 percent immunized for the current school year, Aiello said.

Of the district’s currently enrolled 21,295 students, 19,630 meet all minimum requirements, 452 are in the process of meeting those requirements and 56 are behind schedule, according to Gina Montemurro, administrator for Unified’s immunization program.

To be fully vaccinated, children need to have received 16 doses of vaccines over the course of their childhood to protect against nine diseases.

Opting out

Some families, however, opt out of getting some or all of the required vaccines citing personal, religious or health reasons.

In Unified the number of students with waivers for personal, religious or health reasons is 1,111; 239 of those have a waiver for all vaccines, so they have no immunizations, reported Montemurro.

Statewide, waiver numbers are increasing, Aiello said.

Citing state records, Aiello said that during the 1997-98 school year, the number of students with immunization waivers was 1.6 percent; today that rate is 5.3 percent.

Without the waivers, however, students and their parents are cited as non-compliant for vaccinations, health and school officials said.

During the school year, parents of children who are not immunized may get up to four warnings, Montemurro said.

“We try to really stay on top of it in our schools,” she said.

The solid immunization rates experienced in Unified mirror those reported at the state level, Aiello said.

Citing information from the Immunization Registry for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, she said statewide immunizations for 2018-19 school year are at 91.9 percent.

“The percentage of students who were behind schedule for immunizations is currently 1.6 percent, a rate similar to that in previous years,” Aiello said.

“The rates all look very, very healthy,” Aiello said.

Stay on top of immunizations

Aiello said she hears from Unified school nurses that parents say the district does a very good job about following up and being conscientious about student immunizations.

Keeping immunizations in the healthy zone is all about record-keeping and communication, said Montemurro and Aiello.

“We run (immunization) checks two times a year, on the 30th and 90th days of school,” Montemurro said.

“For kids who are behind during the fall, we exclude them from school for three to five days per state law. In spring they are no longer excluded but put on a list, and we inform the parents.”

“We use the Wisconsin immunization registry as our data system for all those who are immunized,” Aiello said. “Physicians of those who come from other states are required to enter into the registry in order to keep records up to date. With that program we have capability to send notifications and reminders to parents and routinely run reports.”

Getting the word out

In addition to sending out physical reminders, the health department has also begun using social media, including a Facebook page, to get the word out about immunizations and measles.

“The health department has recognized that social media has a very wide impact and the comm has responded very rapidly. As they say, ‘We’ve got a lot of hits. We’re being followed,’” Aiello said.

In the event that measles did find their way into our area, public health officials are prepared, Aiello said. On May 13, the health department held a webinar for staff working with communicable diseases.

“We don’t see measles that often, so a refresher is important,” Aiello said. “It’s better to be proactive.”