Editor’s Note: a slightly different version of this letter was sent previously to school district and town officials.
TO THE INDY,
We are parents of elementary school children in Amherst. We are aware that the first measles case in Massachusetts this year was diagnosed on March 31, amid a national outbreak which has led to cases in at least 15 states. The infected individual, apparently while contagious, visited a number of public places and spent roughly two hours at a westbound stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Framingham. You can find a related article here. This westbound turnpike stop is particularly busy, and it is conceivable that some travelers headed towards central or western areas of the state were exposed.
We are aware that there are children in our community and neighboring towns who are unvaccinated, and/or whose parents may have chosen to take the religious exemption available in our state. An article this past weekend in the Daily Hampshire Gazette identified both Fort River and Crocker Farm Elementary schools as having some of the highest exemption rates in Hampshire County.
A review of the Massachusetts Kindergarten Immunization Survey Results from the past 5 years reveal that immunization rates for our elementary schools have been as low as ~50%, or perhaps that records for some years were incomplete. The Gazette article also notes that the private Hartsbrook School in Hadley has an exemption rate of 25 percent. This is relevant to the Amherst Regional Public Schools because children attending our schools socialize with other children from the area during extra-curricular activities; and some have siblings who attend private schools.
We would not like to see measles spread in our community, given that it can be dangerous and even fatal to medically vulnerable individuals, including pregnant women, babies, adults and children who are immuno-compromised or otherwise medically vulnerable; and that even healthy people can become dangerously ill and suffer lifelong harm from measles.
We respectfully ask that Town health and school officials coordinate in an effort to prevent spread of measles, by taking the following steps and any others deemed necessary:
-Review and update vaccination records and rates for all Amherst schools so vulnerabilities can be identified
-Issue a statement urging parents to vaccinate all children who are medically able to receive the MMR vaccine
-Review existing policy concerning unvaccinated children and their presence at school during an outbreak, including the point at which such a policy would be implemented.
-Arrange to hold one or more free, public MMR vaccination clinics in coming weeks, located at a school building or other convenient public place, and arrange for the clinic(s) be well-advertised.
We also ask the Board of Health to review Center for Disease Control guidelines concerning adults vaccinated prior to 1968 with the inactivated virus; and consider issuing a statement urging such adults to receive an MMR booster, particularly those who work in high-risk settings.
We trust that our Town will be pro-active in responding to this potential health threat.
Marla Goldberg- Jamate and Maria Kopicki
Marla Goldberg-Jamate is the mother of two children who attend the Amherst Regional Public Schools.
Maria Kopicki is a physician, parent, and 20 year Amherst resident.