Washington’s Clark County is currently experiencing a measles outbreak that has led Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency. I am heartbroken that members of our Pacific Northwest community are being painfully impacted by this preventable disease. This outbreak is a stark reminder of the importance of vaccinations for community health and well-being.
Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease, particularly for babies and small children. Before the vaccine was discovered in 1963, 3-to 4-million people were infected with measles annually in the United States. There is no reason that measles should still threaten the health of Washington residents.
In communities with high rates of vaccination against dangerous diseases, herd immunity provides a measure of protection for individuals who cannot receive vaccines. However, communities begin to lose the protection of herd immunity once the vaccination rate goes below 95 percent, according to CNN. In Clark County, only 78 percent of residents have received the MMR vaccine. The Associated Press reported that due to the high rates of non-vaccinated individuals in Clark County, it could be months before the measles outbreak is contained. I applaud our public health officials who are working on containing it. I am also frustrated that they have to spend their limited resources stopping something that is totally preventable.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel internationally to study public health. In a country with a very high vaccination rate, we met with the minister of health. I asked him what they did when people refused to be vaccinated. He was completely baffled by the question, and asked me, “Why would someone not be vaccinated? These are diseases that killed our babies. We have figured out how to prevent them. Who wouldn’t choose to not get these diseases?” I felt rather ridiculous for having asked it.
Vaccinations and a strong public health system are essential to protecting the health of our communities, especially for community members vulnerable to such diseases. WSHA will continue its strong pro-vaccination stance in state policymaking and in hospital operations. We should not allow the resurgence of preventable diseases.
WSHA President & CEO