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With measles cases on the rise in New York State, one Riverhead pediatric practice has decided to discharge unvaccinated patients.

It was not an easy decision, but the doctors at Peconic Pediatrics felt it was one they had to make. The risk to newborn, pregnant women and immunosuppressed families was just too great, Peconic Pediatrics partner Dr. Jennifer Shaer said in an interview today.

The practice began notifying its patients of the decision earlier this year, in anticipation of measles coming to the local area.

Suffolk health officials announced yesterday the first confirmed case of adult measles in Suffolk since the recent outbreak began in New York. As of today, there are 234 confirmed cases of measles in five New York counties outside of New York City and another 390 confirmed cases in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9 and the city’s health commissioner ordered every adult and child who lives or works in four zip code areas in Brooklyn who has not previously received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to be vaccinated.

The measles case in Suffolk does not appear to be related to the New York City outbreak, Suffolk County health commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said.

But measles is a highly contagious disease and can have dangerous, even life-threatening, impacts.

“We’ve been anticipating this,” Shaer said. “It was not a matter of if, but when,” she said of the first confirmed case in Suffolk.

“The pendulum is really swinging. So many people have chosen not to vaccinate,” she said.

“We’ve always been respectful and supportive of the decisions families make for their children. Over the years, while we disagree, we have supported families who have chosen not to vaccinate,” Peconic Pediatrics said in its notice to patients.

“We are now concerned that the number of children unvaccinated in our community is a serious risk. The personal risk of not vaccinating is now expanding beyond the individual and into our community and office,” the notice said.

“It’s just too dangerous,” Shaer said today. “We decided we had to respectfully disagree with parents who choose not to vaccinate. We can’t welcome a child into our office who’s not vaccinated with a fever and a rash and expose newborns, pregnant moms and people with suppressed immune systems,” she said.

Peconic Bay Medical Center’s pediatric practice in Manorville follows the CDC guidelines for vaccinations and does not accept patients who are not willing to vaccinate, said PBMC vice president Samantha Vigliotta. “This has been our longstanding policy.”

PBMC and its affiliated medical practices are on heightened awareness with the recent news of a confirmed case of measles in our service area, Vigliotta said.

“Should a patient present in our emergency department or in one of our medical group offices with a fever and rash, our protocol is to require everyone in proximity to wear a mask and the patient presenting with these symptoms is promptly placed in isolation.

Physicians and health officials urge parents to protect their families and the community by having their children vaccinated in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The measles vaccine requires two doses: one is normally given at age 12 months and the second at 4 years, Shaer said. “But if you’re traveling to a high-risk area, such as Brooklyn or out of the country, the first dose can be given at 6 months and the second dose at 18 months,” she said.

With both doses, the vaccine is 97 percent effective, Shaer said. “When you see widespread illness, there’s always a chance that fully vaccinted people can get the disease.”

If you’ve been vaccinated, if you have had the disease, or if you were born before 1957, you are considered immune, Shaer said.

There is a simple blood titer test that can confirm a person’s immunity by detecting antibodies in the bloodstream.

“In some ways, vaccinations are their own worst enemy,” Shaer said. “They have been so effective that the consequences of the diseases they prevent are unknown to a lot of people today. The disease was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000.

“If this outbreak causes some of the trauma that measles can cause, it may inspire people to have their children vaccinated and that’s a good thing,” Shaer said.

The response from the families treated at Peconic Pediatrics was overwhelmingly positive, Shaer said. Quite a few families came in for vaccinations, she said. “We didn’t end up discharging too many patients.”

Shaer, who began practicing medicine on the North Fork since the early 2000s, when she joined the practice of her father-in-law, Dr. Rogelio Lao, in Aquebogue, said she believes people are making decisions about vaccinating based on emotion.

“Facts and data don’t resonate,” Shaer said.

The modern anti-vaccination movement is rooted in a study published in the British medical journal Lancet in 1998 that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The study was later discredited by the revelation that the children in the study — a very small group of just 12 individuals — were carefully selected and the research was funded by lawyers acting for parents who were involved in lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

The journal retracted the study — considered disproven not long after its publication — 12 years later, in 2010. But the retraction didn’t impede the growth of the anti-vaccination movement, fueled by media personalities, such as the actress Jenny McCarthy and radio show host Alex Jones.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.