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.
Building Healthy Families in Washington
Have you ever tried to call your bank, but couldn’t get a real person on the phone to answer your question? Or gotten stuck filling out a form online and didn’t know who to call? Systems can be overwhelming even for the savviest of us. They can be even more overwhelming for families with limited resources. That’s where our Healthy Connections Team comes in – trusted experts in navigating systems and local resources. We work with families to connect them to resources they need to be healthy and safe, including health insurance.
This month, the Healthy Connections Team was given an award from Public Health – Seattle & King County for enrolling 3,657 King County residents into health insurance from November 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017. WithinReach has been assisting families in obtaining health insurance during Open Enrollment since the inception of the Affordable Care Act four years ago. This year, our team was the top community service organization for enrollment numbers in King County!
What makes the Healthy Connections Team unique is that our outreach specialists and coordinators meet people where they are at – whether it’s providing information online, enrolling people in benefits programs over the phone, or meeting them in-person where they are. We understand the best way to connect people to the services they need is to eliminate the barriers standing in their way.
Many people don’t realize that if someone is referred to a service, it doesn’t mean that they actually receive the service. Sometimes, the application process may not be in a language they understand. Or they may always reach a busy signal when trying to call. Oftentimes, people don’t understand the qualifications for benefits or exactly what the benefits are. These are all things the Healthy Connections Team can navigate to make sure Washington families receive the support they need.
The Team is located in Seattle but provides services to people across the state. All of our team members are certified King County Navigators, trained to know the various health coverage options in Washington and help with eligibility and enrollment forms. Through this work, Washington families get connected to everything they need to be healthy and safe. To learn more about what the Healthy Connection team does, check out our ParentHelp123.org website!
Measles in the News: What You Need to Know
If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve probably heard about measles across the United States, including outbreaks in New York City and Orange County. And you may have paid particular attention to the fact that we have a couple local cases of measles, including in a woman who was contagious recently while visiting Starbucks, the Kings of Leon concert, Pike Place Market, a local sushi restaurant, and other locations in Whatcom, King, and Pierce counties. The period of latency for this virus is long, so exposed people without immunity may not start showing symptoms until this week.
Measles is a highly contagious disease spread through respiration. It is characterized by general malaise, loss of appetite, a hacking cough, a runny nose, and red eyes followed by a rash that covers nearly the entire body. Measles is terribly unpleasant, can be fatal, is and is often accompanied by complications such as pneumonia, permanent hearing loss, and brain damage.
We get alarmed about measles cases because it is one of the most contagious diseases in the world. Roughly 95% of us need to be immunized or have natural immunity for individual cases to not become epidemics. In New York and California, health professionals are trying to control epidemics, meaning a widespread occurrence of disease amongst a specific community at a specific time. A case becomes an epidemic when their is not adequate immunity surrounding the infected individual. Generally speaking, measles cases do not lead to outbreaks because enough of us are immune (generally through vaccination). The Department of Health and Human Services has a really helpful infographic that visually portrays this concept.
As our friend, the former Washington State Health Officer, Maxine Hayes, is fond of saying, “We should never waste a crisis.” We need to learn the lessons that these outbreaks are teaching us: that terrible diseases are never far away, and that our best defense is to be immunized. In the United States, this means getting the MMR vaccination series in childhood, starting at one year of age. The vaccine is safe and effective and the reason we don’t see more epidemics. Please immunize to protect your health and those around you.
For additional questions, contact your healthcare provider or local health jurisdiction.
Balancing the Budget & Tough Choices Families Make Everyday
Olympia managed to avert a budget crisis, much to the relief of Washington citizens and many lawmakers. It took months of work, negotiations and two special sessions to come up with a final budget that our legislators could agree to. During the process, furlough notices were sent to workers whose employment depended on state funding. Single parents that relied on childcare subsidies scrambled to make arrangements under already difficult circumstances. Pregnant women, caregivers and parents wondered if they might get the aid that goes a long way in providing much needed nutrition for their families. During these last two weeks of budget negotiations the word “budget” seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. At WithinReach we worried what the looming government shutdown could mean for the most vulnerable families we work with.
We were relieved when we learned a budget passed and a government shutdown avoided. Unfortunately, these feelings of accomplishment and relief did not come to all. There are thousands of families in Washington that are not able to balance their household budgets and provide their families with basic needs. At the WithinReach Family Health Hotline, we talk to these families every day. These families make concessions and choices about what to fund and what to forgo on a daily basis. These are hard choices. Pay the rent or feed the family? They choose to find a way, and sometimes they ask for help.
The families we talk to want to know that they are doing everything in their power to keep their children on track. They want to provide enough food for their children so that they have the necessary nutrition to focus and do well in school. They want their children to receive health insurance so that they will not have to forgo medical care or be strapped with huge hospital bills. They want for their children what we believe all children deserve—access to healthy food and quality health care. The recent budget passing helped to remind us of the important role these government benefit programs serve in the lives of families throughout Washington. They truly help to lessen the financial struggles of families and help parents breathe easier knowing their children have what they need to be healthy. We are happy to answer those phone calls, and help to alleviate the tough choices that many of those families are forced to make every day.