BOSTON – Measles has made a comeback in some parts of the country and Massachusetts health officials want to make sure the disease doesn't make its way back here. That means keeping vaccination rates high.
Sixteen-year-old Tristan Naylor and his parents have their eye on those vaccination rates.
The Duxbury family recently made the decision for Tristan to go back to school after a year in isolation for leukemia treatments, including a stem cell transplant.
"He had no immune system," his mother Dawn Naylor said.
Now, catching up with his education and social life comes with serious risks.
"He has no immune response," she said. "So something like the flu, COVID, measles, mumps, rubella, can kill him, and a lot of people could be carriers of that if they're not vaccinated."
Massachusetts vaccination trend
Adding to their concerns are falling vaccination rates across the country. While Massachusetts is bucking that trend, local doctors still have concerns about the MMR shot, which prevents against measles.
"We're dealing with the most contagious respiratory virus," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital. "For every person that has measles, it can affect 18 additional susceptible patients."
Afound 152 schools in the state have MMR vaccination rates below 95%, the level that the CDC recommends for herd immunity. That's one in five schools.
Lowest vaccination rate
In Jamaica Plain, the James Hennigan School had the lowest kindergarten MMR vaccination percentage of any public school in the state last year.
"If it's at one school, it could go to somebody else, and then it's another school," Boston father Luigi Pierre said.
Boston Public Schools spokesperson Max Baker said one reason is that many newly-arriving immigrant children went to the Hennigan school, and it has taken school officials time to catch up with their records and shots. He said compliance for the 2023-2024 school year, which has not yet been published, jumped from 65% to 92%.
Promising measles vaccination trend
CBS News found another promising trend. In Massachusetts, the number of adequately protected schools went up by 6% in the last decade.
"Statewide, our MMR rates are pretty consistent," said Pejman Talebian, director of the immunization division at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. He credits a new high-tech record keeping tool for the recent improvement. "That's become more helpful, especially over the last five, six, seven years as more data is entered into that system."
The role migrants play
But school nurses say the continuous stream of migrant families moving into the state still puts a strain on compliance.
"It's a lot of work. It takes coordination between the schools and the city," said Aurelia Medina, district nurse leader for Framingham Public Schools.
Framingham has had success with interpreters, free weekly vaccination clinics, free taxi vouchers for students to get there, and sometimes shots given right in the schools.
"Many of our schools are almost at 100% compliance because we've worked so hard to remove the barriers and it's working for us," said Medina.
Back in Duxbury, Tristan Naylor's family hopes Massachusetts does not go the way of other states recently dealing with outbreaks like Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. What could happen if he were exposed?
"He could die," said his mother. "He could die."
You can check the vaccination rate for your child's elementary school on the State of Massachusetts website, or search the database below.
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