President’s message
April 2019


According to today’s New York Times, there have been 465 cases of measles reported in the United States since the start of 2019, “with 78 new cases in the last week alone.”1  Responding to the surge of this highly infectious disease, Mayor Bill d Blasio said that the city “would issue violations and possibly fines” for those who refused to receive the measles vaccine.  The report, along with others from the Center for Disease Control, once again focuses the public’s attention on the issues of mandatory vaccinations, individual freedom, and how to protect the health of the public.

Protecting the public’s health with regard to measles is not a new issue. There have been numerous measles outbreaks in our nation’s history. In the past, people with the disease were quarantined in their home (note the sign above) or hospitalized in isolation for two weeks or more. Earlier today I was reading about the measles ward in the Contagious Disease Hospital on Ellis Island and how nurses and physicians, working together and implementing isolation techniques, “aseptic” procedures, darkened rooms, and cross ventilation of the wards, reduced the mortality of the disease by 30%.2 Their work was important: in the three year period ending July 1914, they treated over 2000 patients with measles on Ellis Island.3

Today, even though there is a vaccine to prevent measles, many people, unaware of how deadly measles can be, or misinformed about the side effects of the vaccine, refuse to have their children vaccinated, considering the disease to be a minor childhood illness.4   A few years ago, after a similar outbreak of measles in California, Drs. Lusk and Lewenson and I decided to write about the issue from an historical perspective, and published that manuscript in Nursing Outlook. Then and now, however, I wonder if we are reaching the right audience, the general public as well as a wide audience of practicing nurses.  Can knowing history make a difference?  Should we, as an organization, write a position statement about the need for vaccination? How can we make our history relevant to today?  I welcome your thoughts and reactions – and perhaps, volunteers to draft a position statement for our webpage.   

Arlene W. Keeling, PhD, RN, FAAN

1 Tyler Pager, “Measles Outbreak: New York Declares Health Emergency, Requires Vaccinations in Parts of Brooklyn,” New York Times, April 9, 2019

2 Lorrie Conway, Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America’s Immigrant Hospital (Smithsonian Books, 2007: 80

3 Chief Medical Officer, Ellis Island, “Table of Admissions for the Three-Year Period Ending July 1914,” (1915) RG 90, Records of the Public Health Service, NARA Bethesda. Box 157

4 Brigid Lusk, Arlene Keeling, and Sandra Lewenson, “Using Nursing History to Inform Decision-making: Infectious Diseases at the Turn of the 20th Century,” Nursing Outlook 64, 2 (2016): 170-178