March 6, 2019, Washington state saw the passage of a new vaccine bill, after months of measles spreading in certain counties. Under this vaccine bill, won 57-40, parents may no longer use their philosophical or personal objections to exempt their child from required vaccinations.
Specifically, children without the standard vaccinations at different stages of their growth aren’t allowed to enter schools, as they would pose a risk to the herd immunity of the whole community. Before passage, Washington was one of 17 states allowing these kinds of exemptions, and one of more than a dozen states that have seen outbreaks in the last decade.
Washington State’s Measles Outbreaks
Because it was the largest source of Washington state measles cases, a public health emergency was declared on January 18th of this year in Clark County. This was followed by Governor Inslee’s state of emergency on January 25, 2019.
After 71 confirmed cases, Clark County Public Health declared the outbreak over on April 29th, after they went 6 weeks without a new case. 52 of the cases were for kids ages 1-10.
Clark County’s kindergartner immunization rate was only 85%, low enough to allow the virus to spread relatively easily. On May 9th, Washington State Department of Health declared another outbreak in three counties: King (9 cases May to July 10), and 2 cases in each of Pierce and Snohomish.
If someone who hasn’t been vaccinated is exposed to the virus, there’s about a 90% chance they will catch it, and it’s most dangerous for small children under 5, and adults over 30. The virus is spread through the air by talking, sneezing, and coughing.
You may feel sick or have a fever, but there are no specific signs of measles while the virus incubates for 10-14 days. When the characteristic rash shows up, you’ve been communicable for 4 days prior and will be for four days after the rash disappears. For effective containment of this virus, herd immunity needs to be around 95%, but when it drops below that with a rise in the use of personal or religious exemptions from vaccinations, public areas such as hospital, schools, grocery stores, and churches can become sites for easy exposure.
How Well Does the Vaccine Work?
The measles vaccine is comprised of two doses, and with these, there is a 97% protection rate. Herd immunity also protects those who have compromised immune systems and cannot get the vaccine at that time.
Measles doesn’t pose much a risk to the elderly community, as people who were alive before the vaccine either had the virus and developed immunity, or were later immunized. It should be checked, however, which version of the vaccination an older person has received, as the most updated version is more effective.
Global measles is on the rise, with approximately 110,000 deaths in 2017. While this number can and should be reduced, this is much lower than the 1.2 million measles-related deaths in 1985. For people who haven’t been vaccinated, they are at risk while traveling, spreading it to more people at their destination and their home upon return.
Before a vaccine was made available in 1963, almost all children got measles before 15, with 400-500 deaths and close to 50,000 hospitalizations yearly. In the 70s and 80s, the large national push to eradicate measles saw huge decreases in the number of cases, but it wasn’t until in 2000 the US declared domestic measles eliminated.
Under-vaccinated communities pose a health risk to themselves and others who are not vaccinated. Fear of vaccinations has grown in the 21st century, motivated by misinformation, lack of trust in the medical establishment, and religious, philosophical, and personal reasons. Hopefully, Washington state and other communities will not see further outbreaks in measles.
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