Measles outbreak: Some Georgia schools may be vulnerable

More than 200 Georgia schools have dangerously low vaccination levels, putting children at risk if the measles outbreak should spread here, an analysis of state data shows.

Yet the Georgia Department of Health doesn’t take key steps that could help halt outbreaks of measles and other contagious diseases, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found in an October investigation. It doesn’t focus vaccination programs at schools with low vaccination rates. Not once in the past 10 years has it taken legal action to stop potential violations of state vaccination laws. Nor does it check that, during an outbreak, unvaccinated children are kept out of school, as the law allows.

The state doesn’t even know if its vaccination data is accurate, so it may not know where to target vaccination efforts during an outbreak.

While Georgia so far has reported no measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and other authorities are worried that the number of cases growing, the country could have a large outbreak. In January, at least 102 cases were reported, and the CDC has warned that any community with low vaccination levels is vulnerable.

“Measles is so contagious that it one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to the person who aren’t immune also will be infected,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the assistant surgeon general, said at a Monday news conference. “You can catch it just by being in the same room as a person with measles even if that person left the room.”

In the 14 states now reporting measles cases, some school and public health authorities are taking strong measures. Vaccination campaigns are under way. Some states are publishing school vaccination data, so parents can know the risk. Unvaccinated children are being told they will be barred from school for 21 days if any case of measles is found in their schools. Parents are being told to keep infants, who are too young to be vaccinated, out of crowded areas.

Georgia Department of Public Health officials said that the state generally leaves it up to local health departments to take action during an outbreak, though the state will help if it is asked. Schools are primarily responsible for ensuring vaccination laws are followed, the officials said.

The AJC compiled Georgia's vaccination data, so parents could check the reported rates at their children's schools. Learn more here.