Since January, the CDC has recorded more than 700 hundred cases of measles in 22 states, the largest number the U.S. has seen since 1994, according to a report published Monday. Thanks to the MMR vaccine, measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But it’s begun to resurface in larger numbers because of the growing anti-vaccine movement.
Some 70 precent of cases in the current outbreak were in non-immunized patients. And according to the CDC report, its epicenter is in New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities, where misinformation about the MMR vaccine is rampant.
To stop the spread of the highly contagious and life-threatening disease, educating people about the importance of vaccines is crucial. Nurses and PAs, who work with patients all day long, have a powerful platform to do so, says Maggie Venzke, NP, associate professor at George Washington University’s School of Nursing.
Here are a few ways nurses and PAs can get involved.
Ask patients about their immunization status whenever possible.
Naturally, patients who haven’t been vaccinated have a higher risk of developing measles, and non-immunized adults don’t always know they didn’t receive both doses of the MMR vaccine. During an outbreak, receiving that second dose is extra important, Venzke says. So encourage your patients to meet this mark by informing them that getting an extra MMR shot is safe for most adults.
Encourage parents to follow the CDC’s immunization schedule.
The CDC has mapped out exactly at what age infants and children should get which vaccines, and following this schedule to a tee provides the most effective protection. Nurses and PAs in primary care practices and pediatricians’ offices already counsel parents about staying on track, Venkze adds. But if you’re an HCP who works with parents in another type of facility, consider bringing it up if you have time.
Talk to patients and their parents about vaccine fears.
If you encounter resistance in any of the previous two scenarios, you can discuss the safety of vaccines and their effectiveness in a non-confrontational way. The American Academy of Pediatrics has great resources for care providers, Venkze suggests. The AAP’s top tips are:
- Allow parents to express their concerns. Reaffirm their correct views and modify misconceptions.
- Establish a connection by talking about your own experience with vaccines.
- Stress the number of lives saved by immunizations and how contagious measles is. For example, up to 90 percent of non-immunized people who come in contact with an infected person will get it, Venzke explains.
Share medically accurate resources about vaccines.
Especially during an outbreak, healthcare facilities should have resources on-hand for parents and patients to combat the anti-vaccine propaganda that’s spreading rapidly in many communities. The CDC’s VISs, or vaccine information statements, are invaluable resources, says Venkze, as are the handouts available through the Immunization Action Coalition. If you have patients eager to get vaccinated but your facility doesn’t provide them, you can refer them to VaccineFinder.org.
Volunteer with your local health department.
For nurses and PAs who want to use their expertise outside work, Venzke recommends you contact your local health department and volunteer with its medical reserve corps. Many of these organizations are looking for people to spread information about the safety and importance of vaccines. What’s more, you might be able use your experience administering shots at a pop-up vaccine clinic.
Increase in Measles Cases — United States, January 1–April 26, 2019, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC: Record measles outbreak fueled by anti-vaccination propaganda, Fox News.
Vaccine Information Statements, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Immunization Schedules, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last updated on 10/1/19.