There's a measles outbreak near Portland — and 8 percent of kids aren't vaccinated there

Measles infections are increasing amid the rise of anti-vaxxing.
January 29, 2019, 6:38pm
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Measles has resurfaced with a vengeance in the Pacific Northwest because parents are freaked out by the vaccine that prevents it. It’s even led to a state of emergency in Washington.

Along the southern border of Washington State and in the Portland, Oregon, area, there have been 36 confirmed cases of the virus, which is viciously contagious and can kill young children.

The cases had been seen in two counties as of Monday afternoon. In Clark County, which borders Portland, 31 of the 35 cases occurred among people who weren’t vaccinated, and they may have been exposed to measles at local daycares, grocery stores, elementary schools, and doctors' offices. In Washington’s emergency declaration Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee warned “the measles virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children.”

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According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, patients exhibiting measles symptoms have been asked to wear face masks at one Vancouver, Washington, clinic, and some have been treated in the parking lot to avoid exposing others.

Between 2000 and 2010, measles infected about 60 people every year in the U.S. The virus was deemed completely eliminated thanks to a national program requiring what’s called the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps and rubella. The vaccine was first introduced in 1963.

The annual rate of infected people in the U.S. has been steadily rising, however, since fewer people are vaccinating their children amid widely debunked anti-vaccination propaganda that claims vaccines are associated with autism. Nearly 350 measles cases were recorded last year across 26 states and the District of Columbia. New York is currently experiencing its worst outbreak in decades, mostly among members of the Orthodox Jewish community who have claimed a religious exemption to the vaccination program.

Meanwhile, 18 states including Washington and Oregon have introduced so-called “philosophical” exemptions for parents who want their kids to skip vaccines while continuing to attend public school or daycare. Amid the most recent measles outbreak, some Washington state legislators are considering repealing that exemption, according to the Seattle Times.

As the illness threatens Portland, health officials are worried because much of Oregon isn’t vaccinated to the extent that they’d experience “herd immunity,” or a situation in which 93 to 95 percent of any community is vaccinated against the spread of contagious diseases to vulnerable populations. In Oregon’s largest county, Multnomah, where Portland is based, 92 percent of children were vaccinated in 2017, according to the Oregonian. Benton County — home to Oregon State University — is much worse off, at a rate of 86 percent. Meanwhile, in Washington’s bordering Clark County, 7.9 percent of children were exempted from vaccines required for kindergarten entry in the last academic year, according to the Washington Post.

“The bottom line is, there’s no surprise we’re seeing this right now,” Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer, told the Oregonian. “If we don’t get our immunization rates up, we’re going to see more of it in the future.”

Cover: Nurse Lydia Fulton prepares to administer the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at Children's Primary Care Clinic in Minneapolis, Friday, April 28, 2017. (Photo by Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post)