Times might be changing.
Vaccinations for measles in Clark County skyrocketed last month compared to the previous January, according to statistics provided by The Vancouver Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and Sea Mar.
Those statistics fall in line with the statements and information Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman presented at a Friday press conference on the measles outbreak, which has clocked 53 confirmed Clark County cases so far, and 58 total in Washington and Oregon.
“Since the outbreak, we are seeing people take up the vaccine,” Wiesman said.
That press conference took place after the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness’ public hearing on House Bill 1638, which is sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris, a Vancouver Republican, and Rep. Monica Stonier, a Vancouver Democrat. HB 1638 would eliminate personal and philosophical exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for attendance in public and private schools and licensed day care centers.
Wiesman said about 200 people per week generally get the MMR vaccine this time of year in Clark County. But starting on Jan. 13, that number jumped to 644 people, then 1,073 the following week and 1,002 the week after that.
“When people see there’s an issue here and they feel threatened, they are willing to get the vaccine,” he said.
The Vancouver Clinic, Sea Mar and Kaiser Permanente reported the same trend. Kaiser clinics in Clark County and in Kelso and Longview, administered 219 MMR shots in January 2018, but that number rose 417 percent this January to 1,134 MMR shots administered.
For Sea Mar’s clinics in Salmon Creek, the Vancouver location on Delaware Lane and Battle Ground, there were 87 measles vaccines given in January 2018, and 250 over the same time period this year.
The Vancouver Clinic, reported administering 263 MMR vaccinations in January 2018. That number climbed nearly 450 percent to 1,444 shots this year. In 2018, 22 of those shots were given to people older than 18, while 241 were given to people younger than 18; this January, 438 shots were given to people older than 18, and 1,006 were for people younger than 18.
“Sometimes when people see it on the news or they are worried about the safety of their children, then people spring into action,” said Alfred Seekamp, chief medical officer at The Vancouver Clinic. “I think it’s sad that it takes something like this to get vaccinated.”
Seekamp didn’t want to comment directly on the Washington legislation aimed at eliminating personal exemptions for vaccines, but he did say the idea was “reasonable from a public health perspective.”
He said vaccination is important because it helps protect vulnerable populations from diseases. While measles killed about 500 people per year before the vaccine was created, and caused complications for thousands of others per year, it now has a very low death rate. But measles can be life-threatening for infants and people with vulnerable immune systems, who can’t get the MMR vaccine.
Seekamp explained that some people who are just now seeking the MMR vaccine have been vaccine-hesitant in the past, sometimes because of vaccine misinformation they’ve come across. Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick has said vaccine misinformation on social media can be very sophisticated and believable.
“They have reconsidered their decision based on what is going on in our community,” Seekamp said.
Seekamp also said some people don’t prioritize vaccination or come to get one dose, but forget the other — the MMR vaccine provides 93 percent effectiveness with one dose and 97 percent effectiveness with two doses.
The Vancouver Clinic is sending out MMR reminders to patients who haven’t been vaccinated at all for measles or have only received one dose, Seekamp said.
Melnick said he’s aware of the rise in measles vaccinations recently, but said that’s fairly normal during an outbreak. While Melnick commended people for getting vaccinated, he mentioned vaccination should always be a priority, not just during outbreaks.
“The issue I have with it is how long will that last,” Melnick said. “My worry is that after this is over, and people get vaccinated, complacency will set in again. I’d love to see this be permanent.”
No new exposure locations were identified Friday, according to a Public Health news release.
A Feb. 4 exposure at The Vancouver Clinic Salmon Creek has been removed from the list of possible exposure sites. Public Health discovered the clinic was notified before the possible measles patient arrived and followed proper preventative protocol to ensure others weren’t exposed to the patient.
For a complete list of exposure sites, visit www.columbian.com/news/2019/jan/29/measles-exposure-sites.
Of the 53 cases confirmed, 46 had not been immunized against the highly contagious virus. Immunization status could not be verified for six cases, and one case involved a child who had received only a single dose of the MMR vaccine. Two of those cases have moved to Georgia.
Confirmed Clark County cases include 38 children, ages 1 to 10; 13 youths, ages 11 to 18; one adult between 19 and 29; and one adult between 30 and 39. There is also a confirmed case in King County and four in Multnomah County, Ore.