As a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, I see patients suffer every day, and I believe no patient should suffer from a disease that is preventable. Diseases like measles can infect anyone, from weeks-old infants to healthy high school students. And these outbreaks — at least 17 of them in the United States last year — move quickly. If your child is exposed to someone who is infected, he or she will likely catch it.
The good news: We have a measles vaccine. But we need to expand access to children everywhere. In addition to access, we must also combat false perceptions and misinformation surrounding vaccines, whether through legislation or education.
Measles is a leading cause of death for children globally, killing an average of 246 children under age 5 every day. When measles doesn’t result in death, it can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia or swelling of the brain.
Equally troubling: Measles is a highly contagious disease that doesn’t stop at borders. Remember the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015, when at least 125 people got ill? Many of them were unvaccinated.
Although the United States essentially eliminated measles in 2000 because of an effective and safe vaccine, travelers and visitors continue to bring it into the country every year. That’s why it’s essential we eliminate measles by increasing immunization access and educating families on the importance of vaccinating on time.
I’m encouraged by global efforts like the Measles & Rubella Initiative, which has helped deliver more than 2 billion doses of the measles vaccine and helped drive down measles deaths by 80 percent between 2000 and 2017. But we can’t let up now: Outbreaks in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere across the United States show that progress is fragile and must be protected. We have the ability to be part of the historic movement to eliminate measles for good.
The United States has led the global fight against measles, and we need our elected officials in Washington to continue strong funding for measles prevention and other global health risks. It’s vital for New Yorkers to remind our leaders that we care about ending suffering from vaccine preventable diseases — here and abroad.
Melody Anne Butler is a registered nurse and infection preventionist from Lindenhurst. She is also executive director of Nurses Who Vaccinate, and advocate for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign.