In the year 2,000, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared that measles has been eliminated. In 2019, we are experiencing the highest number of measles cases in 25 years.
Medicare does not cover measles immunization or the blood test to determine immunity. I called a national blood diagnostic company and asked the cost of the measles vaccine. They said I must first provide the “test code” from my physician. Thirty minutes later, I gave them the code. The vaccine will cost me $109.96.
Recently, a cruise ship, the Freewinds, owned by Scientology, with 300 guests and crew on board, was quarantined due to measles carried by a crew member. Airplanes at O’Hare, JFK and LaGuardia airports have been quarantined. Measles cases have been reported in Brooklyn and in Hampton Bays, Long Island, near where I live. And yet, some say I am being alarmist.
But get this: the CDC reports that a person with measles will contaminate 90% of the people they come in contact with. The measles virus can remain in the air and able to infect for up to two hours. And so a person with measles (showing symptoms and aware of their illness or not) can walk through a public room; and I can walk through that same room up to two hours later and get measles. But, so far, the websites of the Suffolk County Health Department’s Immunization Action Program and other community health care agencies where I live here on Long Island, reveals little action on this rapidly spreading problem. This is happening through the nation and world.
Every person and organization I contacted, including my local legislator who has children too young to immunize, is making progress on this potential epidemic. But it is, so far, mostly offering information. The next scheduled government meeting is scheduled for next week.
We are not moving quickly enough and our response to date is far more reactive than proactive. Some say not to worry, we are a highly-immunized country and, indeed, we are. But that is not necessarily true for our immigrant communities. And it does not protect the very young in an epidemic who cannot be immunized and must rely on the immunization of others.
In some ways, I may be a perfect victim and transmitter of this highly contagious and very treatable virus. I am from a military family; have lived in nine states and two countries; both of my parents are deceased; and my inoculation records do not exist any longer. The family memory and narrative is unreliable.
I guess I will go to the blood lab and fork over $109.96 for a measles vaccine. But I need a prescription first, and that might mean an office fee. And I need my car and time off from work to get there. Not everyone can or will do this. They will just cough and sneeze and infect without, perhaps, even knowing it.
It is time to immediately address the potential measles epidemic by providing free or reduced-fee immunization at sites throughout our communities. During the influenza epidemic two years ago, the church I serve, the Congregational Church of Patchogue, and the County Health Department offered free flu shots at our church and at other sites. The measles virus is even more contagious than influenza. Let us offer all the assistance we can in addressing the potential epidemic of measles that our communities that form our nation are facing at this very moment.