VANCOUVER, Wash. – Amber Gorrow is afraid to leave her house with her infant because she lives at the epicenter of Washington state's biggest measles outbreak in more than two decades. Born eight weeks ago, Leon is too young to get his first measles shot, putting him at risk of the highly contagious respiratory virus, which can be fatal in small children.
Gorrow also lives in a community where she said having an anti -vaccine is administered as acceptable as being vegan or going gluten free. All of a quarter of kids in Clark County, Washington, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, go to school without measles, mumps and rubella immunizations, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, recently declared an emergency amid concern that things could rapidly spin out of control.
Measles outbreaks have jumped into nine other states this winter, but are particularly alarmed at the one in Clark County because The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation's most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 1
Libertarian-leaning lawmakers, meanwhile, have bowed to public pressure to relax virtually any child from state vaccination requirements whose parents object. Three states allow only medical exemptions; others also have religious exemptions. And 17, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, allow what they call "philosophical" exemptions, meaning virtually anyone can opt out of the requirements
All those elements combine into a dangerous mix, spurring about the resurgence of a deadly disease that once sent tens of thousands of Americans to hospitals each year and killed an estimated 400 to 500 people, many of them young children.
"You know what keeps me up at night?" said Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick. "Measles is exquisitely contagious. If you have an undervaccinated population, and you are introducing measles into that population, it will take off like a wildfire."
To date, at least 55 people in Washington and neighboring Oregon have gotten sick with the virus, with new cases tallied almost daily. All but five are in Clark County. King County, which includes Seattle, has one case; Multnomah County in Oregon, which includes Portland, has four, including three cases reported Wednesday. Health officials said.
Gorrow, who lives in a middle-class bedroom community, says the outbreak has changed nearly every aspect of her life, which is now laser-focused on avoiding contact. with children who may carry measles germs.
When she picks up her 3-year-old from preschool, she pushes grubby little hands away from the baby. She is a family outing to a children's museum, regular trips to the library, the weekly Costco run and play dates for her daughter.
"I hate to say it, but I'm even nervous about having people over – especially people who have small children and are not sure where they stand "on vaccinations, said Gorrow, 29, who had her older child vaccinated.
Measles, which remains endemic in many parts of the world, generally returns to the United States when infected travelers bring the disease back to the country where some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. When immunization rates fall below a certain threshold, outbreaks can occur; pregnant women, young children and people with compromised immune systems who are not vaccinated are at risk. Last year, 349 cases were confirmed across 26 states and the District of Columbia, the second highest total since the disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since October, an outbreak in New York's Orthodox Jewish community has sickened 209 people. In the first month of 2019, 10 states, including New York and Washington, have reported cases, all signs of a resurgence of disease that is completely preventable with a vaccine that authorities are safe and effective.
late winter and spring generally the height of measles transmission, health officials say they are scrambling to stop the disease before it can spread further – spending about 200,000 so far to track down hundreds of unvaccinated people who may have been exposed
Clark County officials have hundreds of families who may have been exposed to more than three dozen locations – including a Portland Trailblazers basketball game, schools, churches and stores such as Costco and Walmart They are encouraging parents to vaccinate their kids if they haven't already, and e pushing back against rumors and misinformation, including that self-medication with vitamin A will prevent measles.
The county is also spending precious time and resources addressing false ideas being spread by anti-vaccine advocates, who he said posted " ridiculous "misinformation as comments on the county health department's Facebook page.
Critics claimed, for instance, that the measles vaccine can cause encephalitis, or brain inflammation, he said. That was documented once in a child who had an immune deficiency and should not have gotten a shot. More commonly, encephalitis is a severe but rare complication of the disease itself
The department has a three-person team countering those assertions and responding to questions.
"That's what we're up against," he said.
Anti-vaccination activists say state officials are interrupting public fear
"It shouldn't be called out out," Seattle area mother Bernadette Pajer, a co-founder of the state's main anti-vaccine group, Informed Choice Washington, said of the measles cases, arguing that the illness has spread only within a small, self-contained group. "I would refer to it as an in-break, within a community."
Like many in her group, Pajer gets the risks from measles to less than those posed by the vaccine itself – a claim that can be traced back to a retracted and discredited 1998 paper inspired by the modern anti-vaccination movement.
In fact, health officials say the virus is so contagious that if an unvaccinated person walks through a room two hours after someone with measles has left, there is a 90 percent chance that an unvaccinated person will get the disease. People can spread measles for four days before the rash appears and for four days after.
Vaccine advocates are also trying to arrange for doctors to meet with parents in small groups or one on one, sometimes for hours at a time, to answer their questions.
Martina Clements, 41, a Portland mom who didn't vaccinate here two children until recently, said the anti-vaccine community uses fear to raise doubts about vaccine safety. But parents who support immunizations can be rewarded.
"On one side, they make you afraid, and the other side they make you feel stupid, and you can stuck in this middle where you feel up by both sides," she said
Clements eventually changed her mind, deciding to give her kids the shots after a doctor at a vaccine workshop answered here questions for more than two hours, at one point drawing diagrams on a whiteboard to explain cell interaction. He was thoughtful, factual and also "very hot," she said.
Vaccine advocates blame federal public health officials for a more robust response to the spreading of vaccine safety
Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, whose daughter has autism, wrote a book, "Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel's Autism," to counter the anti-vaccine lobby.
In a Twitter exchange last week, Hotez said the US surgeon general and CDC director could do much more to push states to tighten state vaccination requirements. General Jerome Adams responded by flipping the responsibility back to local and state officials, who have greater influence with local communities.
"Their response seemed to say this was not their fight because it's a state issue, not a federal one. , "Hotez said. "But I disagree. I feel that anything adversely affecting the public health of Americans is certainly within the federal government's purview.
CDC Director Robert Redfield has tweeted about the dangers of the disease and the importance of routine vaccinations. On Sunday, Adams also released a YouTube video with information about measles.
In Washington state, lawmakers supporting tougher vaccine requirements are mounting their second effort in the past three years to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinations. ] On the same day that Inslee declared a state of emergency, Washington State Rep. Paul Harris, a Republican from Vancouver who represents Clark County, was prohibited all exemptions from the measles vaccine requirement for medical and religious reasons. "It's about public health," he said. "People have the right to go to the store or into the community because they have cancer and are getting chemotherapy. So it just affects those people who choose not to get vaccinated." -vaccine groups are prepared to turn out at a committee hearing scheduled for Friday. Pajer said her group is arranging experts to testify against it. Among those expected to speak is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has argued that there is a government conspiracy about the safety of vaccines.
Despite the expected turnout and the defeat of a similar bill in 2015, Harris said he believes the bill has a chance of passage. The resurgence of a vaccine-preventable disease has scared a lot of people, he said, noting that polls show the majority of Americans support vaccinations. "It is the right thing to do," he said. "This is something we can actually control if we choose to."
The Washington Post's Sun reported from Washington, D.C. Alice Crites contributed to this report.
<img src = "http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.567623.1549530369!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_900/image.jpg" data-caption = "Amber Gorrow demonstrates the screen she uses on her son Leon's carrier when she brings him up to her daughter from preschool.
ALISHA JUCEVIC / THE WASHINGTON POST "/>
< img src = "http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.567624.1549530436!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_900/image.jpg" data-caption = "Amber Gorrow, her daughter Eleanor, 3, and here son Leon, 8 weeks, pick out a show to watch after Eleanor's nap on Feb. 6, 2019. Eleanor received her first measles vaccine, but Leon is still too young to get the shot.
ALISHA JUCEVIC / THE WASHINGTON POST "/>
Amber Gorrow, her daughter Eleanor, 3, and her son Leon, 8 weeks, pick out a show to watch after Eleanor's nap on Feb." 6, 2019. Eleanor received her first measles vaccine, but Leon is still too young to get the shot.
ALISHA JUCEVIC / THE WASHINGTON POST