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.
*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.
What can parents do to support immunization?
From Magic Mountain to Measles – Get Vaccinated to Stay Safe!
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!
“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)