CLEVELAND — As measles continues to grow throughout the country, it seems the concern among health officials is growing, too. The CDC reports that 10 states have cases of the measles. Ohio isn’t one of those states, but some believe it could just be a matter of time.
For Stephanie Stock, a Northeast Ohio mom of two young boys and the president of Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, the measles outbreak throughout the country doesn’t change her feelings about vaccinations.
“My oldest son, he had a vaccine reaction at 4 months and my doctor told me it was a coincidence, these things happen sometimes,” she said. “He was a breast-fed baby and he had been having regular bowel movements, and the day he was vaccinated he stopped having bowel movements for 10 days.”
Her son is OK now, but she says she stopped vaccinating after that.
Cuyahoga County Board of Health Director Andrew Heffron says it’s the small population of kids who aren’t vaccinated that can put others at risk.
“Not vaccinating is like dry patches of grass and the more dry patches of grass, the more likely you are to have a fire,” Heffron said. “Diseases can be a flight away. It’s one person getting on an airplane that can bring it to our area.”
Health officials agree for herd immunity to work about 90 to 95 percent of the community must be vaccinated. CDC numbers show from 2017-2018 in Ohio 92.1 percent of kids received their MMR shots. But experts say just because we’re in the range, doesn’t mean we’re safe from an outbreak.
“You have people coming in from outside. So, all you need is a few children who are not immunized to be affected and then they will spread it to other children,” said Dr. Lolita McDavid, the Medical Director for Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.
Ohio’s percentage of kindergartners with a vaccination exemption from 2017-2018 was 2.6 percent higher than the national median of 2.2 percent. Parents in Ohio schools can opt out of exemptions for medical, religious, or philosophical reasons.
Lawmakers in both Washington and Oregon, states that have seen outbreaks this year, are considering ending philosophical vaccine exemptions for schools.
Meanwhile in Ohio, if there is a measles outbreak at a school, students who have an exemption have to stay home for 21 days after the last known case clears up.
Stock now homeschools her two boys, but says, no matter what, it is her right as a parent to choose to vaccinate or to not vaccinate them.
“It is every parent’s own responsibility to protect their own child, we cannot, in America, be deciding that we are protecting communities and that we are sacrificing our children at the expense of a community,” said Stock. “I will stand by any parent’s right to make whatever medical decision they feel is right for their child, based on their child’s history, based on the knowledge of their child in past events and things like that.”
But for Dr. McDavid, the wave of parents like Stock, is concerning. She says she’s worried that diseases health officials have considered eradicated will come back.
“As a pediatrician, I realize that the three most important things for child health in the last 150 years has been clean water, sanitation, and vaccines,” she said. “That is what has made the difference from children living to see their first birthday and their tenth birthday.”