Measles Outbreak in MN Shows King County is Vulnerable, Too
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Guest post by Neil Kaneshiro, MD
Neil has been a pediatrician in Washington State for over two decades, and is currently serving as chair of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington, which works to improve the health of the community by minimizing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases through the optimal use of immunizations across the lifespan.
Vaccines have made a huge impact in protecting us from preventable diseases. But in some communities, immunization rates have dropped dramatically, creating the opportunity for diseases to return. A current outbreak in Minnesota shows what could happen in Washington.
Hennepin County in Minnesota is in the midst of a large outbreak of measles which is primarily affecting the Somali community there. There are over 60 cases at this point in time and the count is expected to rise because vaccination rates against measles in that community have plummeted from 92% in 2004 to just 42% in 2014. Measles is highly contagious and vaccination rates need to be well over 90% to prevent the spread of this horrible disease. It appears that the community was misinformed about the risks and benefits of measles vaccine by anti-vaccine celebrity Andrew Wakefield* who visited there on several occasions. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence based medicine showing vaccines are safe and effective, pediatricians and family physicians are confronted every day with parents who question vaccine safety and delay, defer or refuse one or more recommended vaccines.
Vaccine advocates are concerned about families who delay or decline vaccination because of outbreaks like the one currently active in Minnesota. With similar pockets of low immunization rates and regular measles exposures, King County is vulnerable to a similar outbreak. Although measles is much more likely to affect those unimmunized by choice, the vaccine is not 100% effective and measles can occur in a small percentage of people who did the right thing and got their vaccine. Also, there are those who are unimmunized because of medical condition or age since the vaccine is not recommended until 1 year of age.
First and foremost, vaccines protect those who receive them. But receiving vaccines in many cases also helps to protect your family, friends and neighbors from disease as well. Talk to your doctor about keeping up to date in child and adult vaccinations (yes, adults need vaccines too). If everyone eligible for vaccines got immunized, we would be a healthier community.
*For those who don’t know, Andrew Wakefield is the researcher from the United Kingdom who tried to link MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. But his research has been discredited and his medical license revoked. Extensive research has shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Leading autism advocates including Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation have concluded that vaccines do not cause autism.
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Immunization Promotion Hits Close To Home!
- Posted by Kay Knox
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Yesterday over breakfast I read an opinion piece in The Seattle Times titled, “The rich and anti-vaccine quacks
”, which draws attention to the fact that many parents in California, as in other states, are choosing not to vaccinate their kids. The columnist is outraged that this choice on behalf of “anti-vaxxers” puts public health at risk. Though this is not new news to me as the CEO of an organization that works hard to improve public health by encouraging vaccination, it became even more relevant and personal later in the day when I received word from my daughter’s Seattle high school that they have confirmed two cases of Pertussis, or Whooping Cough.
This is where my professional life and personal life cross. Like the columnist, I was frustrated and a bit outraged to receive this information from the school. Whooping Cough is a very serious illness, and is one of many vaccine preventable diseases. Though my daughter is fully immunized, my Mom brain began to spin – “Mari can’t get sick, she has way too much going on, she’s just getting up to speed as a freshman in high school, missing school would set her back, and what about kayak practice and her driver’s education course…”. Then my administrator brain activated – “Pertussis is highly contagious, what if it spread?, how many kids will get sick?, how will the school manage this?”… and finally, I ended up back at outrage – “why is my daughter’s school even having to deal with this?, I want them to focus on educating her, not addressing an avoidable health crisis!” I do not know the circumstances of the cases, nor the immunization status of the sick students, but I do know that we must use these scary moments to inspire positive action.
So, after yesterday, I am more passionate than ever about the protection immunization provides us all, and our work at WithinReach aimed at promoting immunization across the lifespan. Specifically, I am committed to our work to normalize immunization as a community priority. Our project called the Immunity Community
reminds parents that the social norm is to vaccinate (the majority of us fully immunize on time and on schedule), and supports parents in conveying publicly WHY we vaccinate: the health and well-being of our entire community.
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Concerned About Ebola?
- Posted by Todd Faubion
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Consider protecting yourself against something that might actually harm you.
While West Africa’s Ebola epidemic has been devastating parts of the region for many months now, popular media coverage of the disease has intensified as it has slowly migrated to new countries and continents. We are seeing near-constant debate and discussion about the prospect of outbreaks outside West Africa, and especially how to implement quarantines and monitor travelers. When two nurses who cared for a patient with Ebola contracted the disease on American soil, anxieties were fueled.
But we must step back and be as rational as possible…stated another way, at the time of this writing exactly 2 of 300 million+ Americans have contracted the disease in the United States, so our odds of NOT contracting Ebola domestically are the best of any communicable disease currently in circulation. Yet, recent polling shows that 25% of Americans believe Ebola is a major public health threat (1). There will probably be more cases, and Ebola will continue to cause morbidity and mortality, especially in places with the deadly combination of low education attainment, high poverty, and weak health systems—but we will not see a widespread epidemic in the United States.
And yet there is a threat that will kill thousands of Americans this year and sicken many more: the flu. While 5 to 20% of Americans will get the flu in any given year, Americans clearly don’t perceive themselves at great risk for this disease because only 58.9% of children and 42.2% of adults got the flu vaccine in 2012 (2). This means that more than half of adults are choosing not to protect themselves and their communities from a disease over which we can exert a great deal of control. Even if the non-vaccinated people don’t die or get seriously ill from the flu, they may pass it to someone for whom the consequences are much worse. And although some people, such as the young and elderly, are at an increased risk, the flu causes serious illness and even death in healthy people of all ages each year.
While there are many other reasons to be deeply concerned about coverage of Ebola (for the racism and xenophobia inherent in narratives of the disease, for the way it mimics problematic judgements seen with past epidemics like HIV, for the inflammatory nature of some public discussions, etc.), in the immunization world we seek to re-ground people in the diseases that they’re actually at risk of and to remind them of the control they do have, which involves getting a flu vaccine annually.
When Ebola comes up in your conversations, please consider using it as an opportunity to remind people of the ways they can contribute to the health of their community. We have a strong health care and public health infrastructure in the United States, and it rests, on some level, on everybody doing their part. Getting a flu vaccine is one way to contribute. To find out where to get a flu vaccine, visit the vaccine finder
(1) The Harris Poll; Pritish Tosh, M.D., infectious diseases physician and researcher, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
(2) “Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, 2013-2014 Influenza Season.” Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1314estimates.htm
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Our Best Work, Fearlessly Every Day
- Posted by Kay Knox
- The CEO Perspective
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I was inspired by a recent Seth Godin blogpost entitled “The Shortlist
I encourage you to read the brief post, but in essence, Seth writes about what it takes to be on the shortlist. He refers to the shortlist as the respected, admired – ‘obvious choice’ – individuals or groups who are always top-of-mind when you want to get something done.
The question he asks is: ‘how do you get on the shortlist’? I realize now, our staff asks that question every day – how can we be on the shortlist among policymakers, how do we stay on the shortlist of our major donors, and are we on the shortlist of hunger relief or immunization thought leaders locally and nationally? More generally, is WithinReach top of mind when it comes to family health?
Seth concludes that people don’t make it on the shortlist just because they deserve it, or even because they are talented, or solely because they are lucky. Instead, he writes:
“No, the shortlist requires more than that. Luck, sure, but also the persistence of doing the work in the right place in the right way for a very long time. Not an overnight success, but one that took a decade or three. The secret of getting on the shortlist is doing your best work fearlessly for a long time before you get on the list, and (especially) doing it even if you’re not on the list.”
I think this is where we stand nearly three decades into our work – doing our best work, fearlessly, and slowly becoming an ‘obvious choice’. In some areas of our work, I think we are on the short list, in others we need to keep building our work and the relationships that support it. At the end of the day, we most want to be on the short list of the families we serve throughout Washington. So, we march on doing our best work, fearlessly every day.
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