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Measles Outbreak in MN Shows King County is Vulnerable, Too

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.

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*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

Tags: families   healthy communities   Immunization   King County   Measles   Minnesota   preventable disease   Protect   vaccine   Washington   

What can parents do to support immunization?

In the wake of outbreaks of diseases like measles, many parents are wondering what they can do to protect their families and their communities from diseases that vaccines can prevent. Here are three steps that any parent can take:
1. Make sure your whole family is up to date on immunizations. To best protect our communities, all of us need to be immunized. For example, when moms and dads are immunized against whooping cough, babies are protected because they are less likely to catch the disease from them. To learn more about what immunizations might be right for you, go to the Washington State Department of Health. Ask your family’s healthcare providers about getting up to date! If you need help finding an immunization provider, contact ParentHelp123.
2. Be a positive voice for immunizations. Speak up for vaccines! Tell other parents in a positive way why you immunize on time and why you think it is important to your community. Posting stories and information about immunization and your own experiences getting vaccinated on social media can also be a great way to show your support for immunization. (Like WithinReach on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for great news and facts to share.) For tips on having respectful and productive conversations about vaccines, check out this blog post.
3. Advocate. Find the immunization rate for your child’s school on SchoolDigger. Consider writing a letter to the editor about news items relating to immunization. If there is a policy change being considered in your school or state that you care about, let your representative know. Connecting with programs specifically for parents, like the Immunity Community in Washington State or Voices for Vaccines, a national organization, can be a great way to get more involved.

 

Tags: Advocate   Community Health   family   immunizations   Measles   parents   Protect   publich health   Support Immunizations   vaccines   

From Magic Mountain to Measles – Get Vaccinated to Stay Safe!

If you follow the news, you’ve probably heard about the outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland, but has spread to Washington and across the country. It feels particularly unfair that an outbreak of a sometimes-fatal disease is linked to Disneyland, a place where families go for a fun and carefree experience. But the irony is that, in a world where parents are opting out of immunizations in high numbers, Disneyland is a Petri dish for cultivating an outbreak. Because kids and their families visit Disneyland from around the country and world, and because symptoms of the disease don’t manifest for many days after exposure (the disease can be spread before symptoms emerge), situations like this are very dangerous.
Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases on earth. It is spread easily and rapidly among individuals who are not protected from the disease. In 2014, and now again in 2015, we have had confirmed cases of measles in Washington State—cases both related to and independent of, the Disneyland cases. This disease is different from most other communicable diseases in that it can be contracted through aerosol transmission, meaning simply by breathing air in a space where a measles-infected person has coughed or sneezed recently. In order to prevent individual cases of measles becoming outbreaks, and eventually epidemics, around 95% of us need to be immunized against the disease—it’s that infectious!
Many of the stories about measles have parodied the ride/song ‘It’s a Small World’, which is an iconic Disneyland experience. Besides being somewhat trite, it’s the perfect reference. The human experience is one that invariably involves exposure to other people, sometimes tens of thousands of people at attractions like Disneyland. We must immunize in high numbers to protect ourselves and our families when visiting such sites, but also to ensure we don’t become disease vectors ourselves, spreading to our loved ones and communities.

Our Immunization Team will always advocate strongly for complete, on-time vaccination to protect health. We also recognize that all parents, even those who don’t immunize, do so out of an interest for the health of their children. As such, we’ll continue to foster dialogue about why immunization should be a community priority, especially featuring the voices of parents who choose to immunize, like those enrolled in our Immunity Community program. Many thanks to those parents who are working hard to ensure that children in Washington are protected from disease!

 

Tags: contagious diseases   Disneyland   healthy children   Immunity Community   immunize   Measles   outbreak   Protect   vaccine   Vax Northwest   Washington state   

“On Immunity: An Inoculation”

It’s not too often that a new book about immunizations hits the shelves. And it’s even less often that a book on immunizations from a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning essayist is published. Much of my reading for work involves publications in medical journals or things like the CDC’s “Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases” (say that three times fast) – while full of information that is both useful and fascinating, they’re not exactly page-turners. So I was excited to pick up “On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss.

Eula Biss approaches the topic as a mother and essayist, not as a scientist or advocate, and she blends poignant stories from her own experiences of birth and motherhood with philosophical contemplation. Rather than focusing on the science of immunization, she asks the question, what does it mean to be vaccinated? What does it mean to be immune to diseases? What are the cultural implications and contexts of choosing to be immunized, or to forgo immunizations?

The book is short – just 163 pages – and Biss’ prose is tight, so while she touches on sources ranging from her conversations with other mothers to Greek philosophy to Victorian gothic novels, her tangents never ramble. Susan Sontag’s work on illness as a metaphor is a huge influence on her, and Dracula (yes, the vampire) makes several appearances as well. She explores the culture of fear that impacts the choices many parents make, and the constant tension between individual freedom and the collective good that marks American discourse.

On this last note, she addresses the work of a prominent promoter of an “alternative,” un-researched and un-proven immunization schedule who recommends delaying some immunizations and skipping others. A few years ago, one of his patients got measles and went on to infect several vulnerable children and infants in their school and in a different doctor’s waiting room:

“In Dr. Bob’s world, another doctor’s waiting room is not his concern and public health is entirely independent of individual health. ‘This is an important vaccine from a public health standpoint,’ he writes of the hep B vaccine, ‘but it’s not as critical from an individual point of view.’ In order for this to make sense, one must believe that individuals are not part of the public. Public health, Dr. Bob suggests, is not our health.” (p 108-109)

Both my professional training in public health and my personal values lead me to believe in the “us,” not just the “me.” The public is made up of individuals, and the biological reality is that the choices we make affect each other in myriad ways. And although immunizations offer us extraordinary protection as individuals, I also value them for how they protect those around us as well. I think this is true not just of immunizations, but of our passion for promoting healthy families throughout the work we do at WithinReach: When families have the resources they need to be healthy, we all benefit.
If you loved your English and philosophy classes but loathed science, this is definitely the immunization book for you. And if you loved science and are having a hard time wrapping your brain around why some folks aren’t leaping at the opportunity to immunize their children, this book will offer some insight. Anybody who cares about public health but, more deeply, what our collective obligations to each other are in a democratic community will enjoy this thoughtful read.

 

Tags: Health   immunizations   preventable diseases   Protect   Public Health   vaccination   

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