An ongoing outbreak of measles – one of the most contagious diseases known to – in the Washington state has prompted the governor to declare an emergency for public health.
From Saturday, there were 31 cases in Washington's Clark County bordering Portland, Oregon. Most cases included children between one and 10 years who had not been vaccinated. There is also an adult case in nearby King County whose largest city is Seattle.
"The mask virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal to young children," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee in his statement on Friday. The fact that it is spreading in Washington since the outbreak was identified on January 1
The cause of the emergency is simple: Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man. A person with measles can cough in a room, leave, and – if you are unvaccinated – hours later, you can catch the virus from the drops in the air that they have left behind. No other virus can do it.
In Clark County outbreaks, people with the virus had visited public places, including health facilities, schools and churches, as well as Ikea and Dollar Tree – potentially spreading the virus to others.
That leads us to another fact that makes the outbreak in the Northwest particularly worrying: There is more risk for children in public places than there are most other places in the country. This is because Oregon and Washington are more permissive than other states in allowing parents to reject vaccines for reasons that have nothing to do with health.
Mask solutions can easily be prevented with the measles-hemp rubella vaccine, which children in the United States must come before entering the nursery. Most people who receive the two doses of the vaccine will never be measles even if they are exposed.
Yet across the river in Oregon, the number of vaccine exemptions has risen sharply lately, from 5.8 percent in 2015 to 7.5 percent in 2018. And, particularly in Washington's Clark County, 7.9 percent of children had been granted exemptions from vaccines to access kindergarten from the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Washington Post. It is much higher than the national average, suggesting that 2 percent of children are unvaccinated for non-medical reasons.
These opt-outs have made Oregon and Washington more susceptible to completely preventable outbreaks, says Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease researcher. "[They] is now a major anti-vaccine hotspot due to non-medical vaccine exceptions that have nothing to do with religion." While Oregon hasn't seen any cases yet, the geographical proximity of Washington's outbursts is worrying, Hotez said. And "because this is such a great unvaccinated cohort," he added, "this epidemic can last a while."
States with harder vaccine laws have higher vaccination rates
Vaccines fall under state public health jurisdiction. And there is currently a lot of variation in the US when it comes to immunization requirements.
All 50 states currently have legislation requiring student vaccines – but almost all states allow exceptions for religious convictions to immunizations, and 18 states provide philosophical exceptions to those who are against vaccines for personal or moral belief. (The exceptions are Mississippi, California and West Virginia, which have the strictest vaccine laws in the nation, allowing no philosophical or religious exceptions.)
"States expect to access public resources such as schools, camps or childcare centers , individuals must give up some independence to ensure that everyone in the community is safe, "University of Colorado Denver Sociologist Jennifer Reich, studying the anti-vaccine movement, told Vox earlier.
Perhaps surprisingly, those parts of the country that make it easier for people to deviate from their shots tend to have higher rates on … people choose vaccines. So a salmon regulatory environment can make room for more parents to refuse vaccines. And that's what we look like in the Northwest right now.
Oregon and Washington are among the 18 states in the United States that allow philosophical vaccine exemptions for people who wish to opt out of moral or personal beliefs. In 12 of 18, the number of these exceptions has increased since 2009.
By 2015, Oregon state legislators made it harder for parents to exclude their children from vaccines – requiring them to see an online training vaccine program or talk to a doctor or nurse to get a vaccine training certificate. But it has not deterred parents, according to a recent state analysis. After a first dip in the non-medical exception rate, it has steadily increased in recent years.
"Measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, but it has been allowed to return," said Hotez, partly because of "ignorant and feuded state legislators and the government's failure to promote a campaign against vaccination."