Ohioans advised to call ahead on measles vaccine

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio residents should call first before heading to pharmacies to get vaccinated amid ongoing outbreaks of measles and mumps, state officials said Tuesday.

Pharmacists can now administer the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to adults under an executive order from the governor. But individual pharmacies can decide whether to carry the immunization and may not yet have it following Monday's order.

Ohio has the nation's largest outbreak of measles cases since 1994, said Mary DiOrio, the state epidemiologist. There were at least 287 confirmed cases as of Monday, up from about 160 cases two weeks ago.

"It's a virus that will find those who are unvaccinated if it gets into certain communities," DiOrio told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

Seven counties have reported measles cases. Health officials have said it began with unvaccinated travelers who visited the Philippines, which has had a measles epidemic.

Gov. John Kasich's order is in effect for 90 days, but the state pharmacy board wants to make it permanent.

Ohio also is grappling with a mumps outbreak, with 418 probable and confirmed cases reported as of Monday.

Pharmacy board president Kevin Mitchell said the panel has sent emails to licensed pharmacists and are working with their trade association to spread the word about the MMR immunization change. Previously, pharmacists have been able to provide immunizations to adults for such illnesses as flu, tetanus and meningitis.

The MMR vaccine doesn't differ greatly from the other immunizations pharmacists are trained to give, Mitchell said.

The state health department said it has distributed 16,600 doses of MMR vaccine to local health agencies in affected areas, which have administered at least 11,000.

The measles virus is highly contagious, spreading easily through the air and in closed rooms. Infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.

It causes a fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.

Ohio has had eight hospitalizations in a measles outbreak that began in March, with most of the sick recovering on their own.