(Rock Hill, S.C.) –- Last month, South Carolina had its first reported case of the measles in 21 years. The case was confirmed in early August in Georgetown County by the S.C. Department of Health and Environment Control.
Thus far in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 124 cases of the measles across 22 states and the District of Columbia.
The majority of these cases have been in individuals who had not been vaccinated for the virus.
In the wake of the multi-state outbreak, both the CDC and DHEC are urging people to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of the illness. However, South Carolina was not listed by the CDC as a state affected by the national outbreak.
The measles often comes into the U.S. from countries with lower rates of vaccinations.
“The more people immunized, the less likely the virus or illness can survive and therefore spread,” said Mary Jo Barreto, assistant director of Health Services at Winthrop University.
“Measles is highly contagious. In an unvaccinated population, about 90 percent of people exposed to the virus would get the disease.”
Per the CDC, the two doses of the MMR vaccine, which protect prevent measles, mumps and rubella, are 97 percent effective.
At Winthrop, where there are many different students from various backgrounds, a student must provide documentation of a number of immunizations, including the MMR and vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis and a screening for tuberculosis.
Barreto said the vaccinations are mandatory unless student claims to be exempt for either religious reasoning or medical contraindication.
While these exemptions are not common, there are still a number of individuals who claim them.
Elizabeth Ponds, a graduate student at Winthrop, said she came to the school unvaccinated under a religious exemption in 2014.
“You have to actually call them and ask for (the religious exemption form)…but it’s funny because it (wasn’t) religious,” said Ponds.
Her family, she said, doesn’t believe in vaccines, so they claimed the religious exemption to get around the Winthrop requirement.
However, in December 2016, after there was a confirmed case of the mumps at Winthrop, Ponds decided to get vaccinated. She said she encourages students to conduct research for themselves if they are unsure about getting vaccinated.
Since then, Winthrop has added a $50 non-compliance fee for individuals who decide to go unvaccinated. According to the university’s website, this is to accomplish “100 percent immunization compliance for the health and safety of our Winthrop community.”
Barreto said Winthrop is working to ensure the student population is up to date on all of their immunizations.
Additionally, students are able to get vaccinated for a fee at Health Services.