In 2000, measles was considered eradicated in the United States, but as of May 3, there were more than 760 cases, an increase of 60 cases from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a record number from recent decades, and some 23 states are affected.
Close to home, last Saturday, officials at Public Health-Seattle & King County announced that a Canadian resident from British Columbia who traveled to the Seattle area in late April had been diagnosed with measles. Prior to arriving in King County, he spent time in Japan and New York, two places that currently have measles outbreaks. While he was infectious, he spent time in the Seattle area at several locations, including popular tourist attractions and Sea-Tac Airport.
The traveler, a man in his 40s, has since recovered from his illness, but it is not clear yet if any people he came into contact with have contracted the illness.
In what we view as good news amid the difficult measles news around us is that the state Legislature recently passed a bill removing parents’ ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption regarding vaccinating their children for measles, mumps and rubella. Medical and religious exemptions will still be allowed. As of press time, Gov. Jay Inslee had not yet signed the bill but had expressed support for it.
At the Vashon Island School District, nurse Sarah Day said she believes the legislation will be valuable for the school community, particularly in the FamilyLink and StudentLink programs, where vaccination rates are lowest.
With the measles outbreak in Clark County and measles increasingly in the news, Day said many previously unvaccinated students have now been vaccinated — but Day said there are still many students with exemptions, and the district is below needed levels for protective “herd immunity.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section at Public Health -Seattle & King County, recently weighed in on the current outbreak and recent legislation.
From the public health perspective, increasing childhood immunization rates is a local and national priority, especially with the current resurgence of measles, he said. States that do not allow non-medical exemptions, such as those for philosophical, religious or personal beliefs, have high levels of childhood immunization coverage. California, he noted, recently eliminated non-medical exemptions and its immunization rates improved.
While he said he could not predict the effect of the new law on vaccination rates locally, he hopes it results in more children being vaccinated and protected from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
“This will both keep more vaccinated children healthy as well as provide increased community-wide protection for all of us,” he said.
As the number of measles cases continues to grow, we support the goal of community-wide protection.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is widely considered safe. For people who want to learn more on vaccines and vaccine safety, we recommend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.