Measles outbreak calls for our attention

It is likely the Washington outbreak will continue to grow

  • Wednesday, January 30, 2019 12:09pm
  • Opinion

Since we wrote in this space last week about the Clark County measles outbreak and the rise of “vaccine hesitancy” as a global health threat, the situation in Clark County has only gotten worse.

By last Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee had declared a public health emergency, and the number measles cases in Clark County had increased to 25. A resident of King County had also been affected by the illness and hospitalized. By Monday, the number of Clark County measles cases had increased to 35 and 11 more pending. It is important that islanders pay attention to this news as it continues to develop.

Over the weekend, stories about Clark County had proliferated widely, with coverage on a variety of national and international outlets, the BBC, CNN and PBS among them.

On the PBS NewsHour, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, participated in a live Facebook session.

He stressed several points, including one that is particularly relevant in this community, which has had a long history of a parents not vaccinating their children and division about the issue. Fauci stressed that attacking people for not immunizing is the wrong approach. Instead, he encouraged people to talk about the facts and the evidence behind vaccines with people who choose not to vaccinate.

It is likely the Washington outbreak will continue to grow, and with one case already confirmed in King County, it could grow very close to home. How we talk to one another — face to face and on social media — is important about this now and will be important in the weeks ahead.

Fauci noted the paradox with measles. On the one hand, he said that measles is one of the most infectious illnesses that exist. In a room with someone with measles, 90 percent of unvaccinated people will contract the disease. And the infected person does not even need to present for the virus to spread; infection could occur for two hours after the person has left the room. On the other hand, the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective — one of the highest efficacy rates of all vaccines — and it can stop the illness in its tracks.

Close to home, Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health – Seattle & King County recently cautioned that because the incubation for measles is so long — 21 days — this outbreak will likely continue for months. Public health officials are concerned about spread in King County and are encouraging unvaccinated people to get immunized.

The King County individual who had measles was hospitalized but has since recovered, though he may have exposed others earlier this month in Auburn, Kent and Covington.

In the wake of this latest outbreak, state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would ban vaccine exemptions on a philosophical or personal basis. On Sunday The Seattle Times editorialized that the Legislature should do just that — and even singled out Vashon for its overall exemption rate (not solely for measles) of 16.3 percent.

It is time for change here on Vashon. It is time to trust science and prioritize community health.

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