Crawford County is among 11 Illinois counties believed to be at high risk for a measles outbreak, according to the Crawford County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The cause for concern is the low vaccination rate among local school children, CCHD Nursing Supervisor Jenna Lee Thompson explained.
The local health department is already taking many of the steps IDPH recommends for boosting immunization rates, she said.
For example, CCHD is enrolled in the Vaccines for Children program. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control, the program is operated by IDPH and provides vaccines at no cost to eligible children from birth to age 19. These youths might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay.
The department offers late-evening immunization clinics every Tuesday and will be extending its back-to-school evening clinics this year to better accommodate the public. There are also walk-in clinics every Monday from 8 to 11 a.m.
CCHD also plans several clinics specifically for school immunizations (see separate story).
The department tracks vaccination rates and tries to locate and immunize all children who have not received all of the required vaccines.
"We try to educate parents who refuse vaccinations," Thompson said. "Refusing it puts their child - and children that cannot receive the measles vaccine due to medical reasons -- at high risk for serious complications from the measles.
"We must have the support of the school system to adhere to the state policy of not allowing unvaccinated children to continue going to school after the 'kick out date' in the fall," she said.
"We will be working with any of the schools that have unvaccinated children in the school. This is especially important as measles is a highly contagious disease," Thompson added. "There have been outbreaks as close to us as Champaign."
Both Crawford and Jasper counties report 95 to 96 percent of their children are immunized. Clark and Lawrence counties, however, are at 99 to 100 percent. Like Crawford, Jasper is considered one of the counties where schools are at high risk for a measles outbreak. Clark and Lawrence schools are among those at the lowest risk.
Meanwhile, IDPH is taking steps to increase vaccination rates across the state, in response to Illinois' seven measles cases and CDC reports of more than 600 cases across the country.
These steps include increasing accessibility to vaccines, expanding outreach in communities with low vaccination rates and educating the public on the importance of vaccines.
"IDPH is committed to taking action to keep our communities safe from measles and other preventable diseases," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
"Vaccination is our best tool to protect our families and while overall vaccination rates for the state are strong, some specific communities have lower rates and remain vulnerable to disease outbreaks," Ezike continued. "Through a multifaceted approach that will include breaking down barriers to vaccination, targeted outreach and education, IDPH is committed to increasing vaccination rates in every corner of Illinois and minimizing the threat of measles in our state."
Public health officials are working with schools, community organizations, religious groups, parent organizations and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to provide vaccinations.
Steps will include, but are not limited to:
Mobile units: IDPH will assist in providing mobile units to neighborhoods with low vaccination rates to hold clinics and provide vaccinations.
Targeted events: IDPH will identify events with high parent and children attendance and support vaccination clinics at these events. These can include county fairs and neighborhood celebrations.
Faith outreach: IDPH will work with religious organizations to sponsor vaccination clinics after services, during vacation bible school and near other religious gatherings.
Community coordination: IDPH will work with community health workers and parent educators to help set up appointment times for vaccinations, provide or arrange transportation and assist parents in filling out the paperwork.
Public education: IDPH will work to combat misinformation about vaccines and increase education efforts through health events, marketing and social media.
IDPH is also working with the Illinois State Board of Education to conduct a more in-depth data analysis that will inform additional actions.
This study will focus on schools at risk for outbreaks because of student vaccination rates of less than 95 percent. The study aims to understand why the school is experiencing a lower vaccination rate and identify who, specifically, is not being vaccinated.
IDPH is working with local health departments to meet and talk with school officials and health care providers in the community to learn about barriers that limit vaccination and identify additional opportunities to increase rates.
Barriers already identified include:
Transportation: Some parents do not have a way to get their children to clinics for vaccinations.
Time: Health clinic hours may not fit with working parents' schedule.
Paperwork: Vaccination requires the consent forms to be filled by the parent. Some parents may be overwhelmed by the paperwork and not fully understand how to fill it out.
Wait Times: While local health departments and providers may offer special vaccination clinics before the beginning of the school year, the wait times can sometimes be more than an hour.