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Measles again

We wrote this prior post almost four years to the day. And here we are again talking about measles - in New York, Washington, Oregon, and across Europe. A total of 17 outbreaks (defined as 3 or more linked cases) were reported in the United States in 2018 - for a disease that is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine.

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Sadly, we feel it’s inevitable.

Given our sheer proximity to California and Arizona, and given that these two states are at the center of concerns over the “Disneyland Outbreak” of measles, we stand prepared.

As we position ourselves to proactively communicate facts and key messages about measles, preparing for the inevitable onslaught of questions we will get from the media and concerned community members, we can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu — and a frustrating but profound sadness for the families that are impacted.

The déjà vu comes from the fact that Immunize Nevada was initially created in response to a national measles outbreak between 1989 and 1991.

That’s right: It was measles that inspired the formation of Immunize Nevada then, and it’s measles that we’re once again addressing as we enter our 20th year.

So here’s a little bit of background, which provides interesting context to our current situation.

That earlier U.S. measles epidemic from 89-91, hospitalized more than 11,000 and killed more than 120 people, many of them young children. In response, a national organization, Every Child By Two (ECBT), was founded in 1991 by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers. Carter and Bumpers had been working on immunizations since their husbands were governors in the early 70s and have been credited with the passage of laws mandating school-age vaccination requirements in every state during the Carter Administration.

From 1991-1999, ECBT’s cofounders traveled the entire nation to alert governors and their spouses, elected officials and concerned community leaders about the immunization challenges within their communities. This resulted in the establishment of immunization coalitions in nearly every state, which continue to thrive today. ECBT continues to work with partners at the grassroots and state level to recommend best practices and develop successful initiatives.

As they did in other states, these national efforts during that time inspired a small group of Nevada-based organizations, agencies, business leaders and concerned citizens to action. They knew that the only way to combat something as devastating as measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases would be to band together and make sure that Nevada’s children had access to affordable and timely vaccinations.

And that’s just what they did.

The Washoe County Coalition for Childhood Immunizations and the Southern Nevada Immunization Coalition (both later to evolve into Immunize Nevada) both emerged from this visionary group, with the mission and vision to increase vaccination rates to ultimately end vaccine-preventable outbreaks in Nevada.

Fast forward 20 years later as we consider plans for our 20th Anniversary in 2015, and it seems almost cruel that the same disease that initially brought our group together and was considered eliminated in the US in 2000 is once again threatening unsuspecting Nevada families and creating a needless outbreak of something that vaccines can prevent.

That’s the part that’s not only frustrating, but also incredibly sad.

Our sole purpose is to help educate Nevadans about vaccines: Why they’re important; where to get them; how they are safe, effective and important across the lifespan; what laws are necessary to protect our school children and communities.

Our team organizes webinars and conferences for health care providers. We develop extensive public relations and media campaigns to educate the public. We are in the community talking to people and sharing our knowledge.

Despite the progress we’ve made, we still have work to do — obviously. It breaks our hearts that it takes an outbreak of devastating diseases such as measles or pertussis to demonstrate how herd immunity really works, and the power of vaccines to protect the public.

The prominence of Disneyland, coupled with the devastation of children being diagnosed with measles across the country, yet again creates a platform for us to share our message. And right now, it feels like we have some additional listeners.

We will faithfully continue to do what we’ve done for 20 years: Educate anyone who wants to listen;  advocate for pro-immunization policies at the local and state level; and reach out to Nevadans across the lifespan and all walks of life to make sure they have the information they need to access immunizations.

We are prepared to communicate, engage and educate today, as we have been for the last 20 years. And with any luck, in 20 more years, the strength of our cumulative voices as a community, as a nation and as a society will finally resonate loud enough that our mission will change.

We hope to always educate, but one day, perhaps not respond to unnecessary outbreaks.

But unfortunately, that day is not today.

Immunize Nevada

Immunize Nevada, an award winning 501c3 non profit, is widely recognized as Nevada’s trusted resource for immunizations and community health for all ages by fostering education and statewide collaboration.