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caption: FILE: A child with measles
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FILE: A child with measles

The fight against measles, in the hospital and in Olympia

In southwest Washington state, nearly one in four kindergartners didn’t get all their immunizations last year. That includes measles.

There are 54 known cases of measles in the state — 53 in Clark County and one in King County as of Feb. 11.

In late January, Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency over the outbreak and last week, state lawmakers heard testimony on House Bill 1638. It would end the personal exemption to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Bill Radke interviews John Lynch and Rep Monica Stonier on 'The Record', Jan. 30, 2019

John Lynch, the medical director of the Infection Control program at Harborview Medical Center, said this measles outbreak in the state is a public health emergency and we should be paying attention.

Vaccination rates among children in the Pacific Northwest are around 90 percent. Lynch said that’s lower than in the rest of the country.

"We really need it a little bit higher than that to have good immunity for the population,” Lynch said.

“We technically eliminated measles from the United States around 2000. But measles is circulating widely and there are big outbreaks going on in many other parts of the world where people don't have access to vaccines."

When people from those countries travel to the U.S., anyone who isn’t vaccinated is exposed to the highly infectious disease.

There are pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment throughout the Northwest, Lynch explained: "There's a group of people who say ‘you don't tell me what to do. I don't want to be part of your conspiracy'."

He said there are people who feel the vaccine isn't effective and don't want to be a part of it. “But,” he said, “we also acknowledge these people, particularly parents, are worried about their kids and have heard some false reports saying that it's a dangerous thing to give to their children.”

Lynch said we have to go back to the science. He said there's solid data on the MMR vaccine, which shows the vaccine is highly effective and safe.

“When someone decides not to get vaccinated or not to vaccinate their kids what they're really relying on is that the population around them is getting vaccinated,” Lynch said. “So your freedom of choice is not just about you: Vaccination is a community protection.”

Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) is a sponsor of House Bill 1638. She said vaccinating everyone especially helps children at high risk. ”Children who have a lowered immune system, or might be recovering from cancer treatment, and newborns who haven't yet had the immunization — these are the children that we need to be protecting,” she said.

The bill has the support of the state medical association and Gov. Inslee.

And a reminder: If you think you've been exposed or you might have measles, call your primary care provider before you show up at a doctor's office. That will give them time to prepare for your visit and minimize the danger of exposure to others.

Produced for the web by Katherine Banwell.