'Measles is a major health problem that must be addressed today'

My turn/ Dr. Jamee M. Goldstein

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As a pediatrician who is part of a group that provides critical heath care to thousands of patients across the down state region, including Orange and Rockland counties, I am compelled to respond to your April 4th article “Doc: Response to measles outbreak out of proportion.”

We are facing an unprecedented outbreak of measles in our region and this must give us all pause for concern. A direct and immediate response to this problem was needed to protect public health and Rockland County and other agencies have responded.

Measles was eliminated, but not eradicated. The disease is now coming back with a vengeance. The first measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, preventing the usual major outbreaks.

Two doses of the vaccine are 97 per cent effective in preventing disease.

We must be very concerned about children getting measles and the severe health risk it causes:

•According to the CDC one in 10 children with measles gets an ear infection, which can lead to permanent deafness.

• One in 20 children with measles develops pneumonia and one in 1,000 develops encephalitis (brain swelling that can cause brain damage).

• Pregnant women with measles are at greater risk of having premature or low-birth-weight babies.

Measles is very contagious and can live for two hours in the air after an infected person leaves that room. A person with measles is contagious four days before the rash begins and infected individuals can go to stores and public places before being diagnosed. Early symptoms are difficult to distinguish from the symptoms of the common cold.

Rockland County has documented more than 160 cases of measles in the last six months. Recently, the Rockland County Executive issued an executive order banning all non-vaccinated individuals (excluding medically exempt individuals) from public places.

We believe it was in the hope of stopping the spread of the disease. There had been almost weekly reports of more cases of measles and exposures in stores and schools.

Last week a judge overturned that order and now the Rockland County Executive, his advisors and medical experts will plan their next move.

In the judge’s ruling, he stated that such orders cannot exceed five days. He also said 166 confirmed measles cases over the course of six months doesn’t constitute an “epidemic.”

No matter what word is used, this is a major health problem that must be addressed today.

It is disturbing that news reports we’ve seen do not feature any board-certified pediatrician or infectious disease specialist being consulted or quoted.

For an issue like this, we must rely on experts who have experience about the true health risk.

The debate on the legalities of elements of the state of emergency is a different issue. This family medicine physician recently quoted in your outlet stated that measles is not a dangerous virus and there is "no particular risk" to the public.

These statements are the direct opposite of the great majority view of medical professional and the CDC.

There is a distinction that we must make between statement of medical facts and personal opinions relating to governmental policy.

The discussion of the importance of vaccinations and protection of public health should not be entwined with lawsuits against the Rockland County Health Department or other entities relating to the actions that are being taken in public places or schools.

As a pediatrician I believe in vaccinating children. This is also the policy of Allied Physicians Group, which has more than 150 pediatricians working from more than 30 offices in the region.

We also respect personal choice; however, we must consider the risk that others may cause to public health.

As a community, we need to protect the most vulnerable and sometimes that needs to be done at the cost of our own comfort.

While I respect the parents, who do not wish to vaccinate, no government agency is forcing parents to vaccinate against their wishes.

What we are asking is everyone get the facts and make the best decision to protect yourself, your family and your community.

Dr. Jamee M. Goldstein, D.O., is a member of Allied Physicians Group Monroe Pediatrics.

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