It was quiet Friday afternoon in the Goss family’s Salmon Creek home, where the only immediate sign that it was a special day was toddler Shep’s new shirt.
“Young, wild and three,” it read.
Friday was Shep’s third birthday. There were plans to throw a camping-themed birthday over the weekend complete with tents, hot dogs and s’mores cupcakes. But in light of the ongoing measles outbreak in Clark County, the family decided to wait until Shep’s half-birthday this summer to celebrate.
“This whole thing has spiked my anxiety,” his mother, Christina Goss, said Friday.
Christina and Ian Goss, Shep and their 4-month-old daughter Faye are among several Clark County families who reported to The Columbian that they were hunkering down and waiting for the proverbial storm to pass before taking their children out or inviting friends over. Shep is vaccinated, but Faye is still too young to receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine; babies cannot receive the shot until they’re between 12 and 15 months of age.
Other parents with babies worry about exposing their children to the highly contagious virus, which causes a high fever, cough, runny nose and rash.
“We’re pretty much minimizing contact with any outside areas,” said Samantha Randall, who has daughters 3-year-old Lily and 7-month-old Lexi. There are no public play areas on the Vancouver-area exposure site list, but Randall said they’re still avoiding those places, just in case.
“We won’t know until after the fact that someone could have been there,” she said.
Clark County, where the number of cases has been steadily climbing, hit 53 cases over the weekend — with 47 of those cases in people who were not immunized.
Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said proper immunization is important to protect the whole population, not just those who have received vaccines. There’s a small percentage of people who cannot receive vaccines, such as infants or people who are immunocompromised; for example, kids with certain forms of childhood cancer.
“The concept of herd immunity is, if you have enough people in the population who are immune, the virus hits dead ends. It gets blocked,” Melnick said.
About 95 percent of people need to be immune to a disease in order for herd immunity to succeed. According to the Washington Department of Health, 77.6 percent of Clark County students are fully vaccinated, and 5.3 percent are exempt from receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, specifically.
Public Health is advising those who aren’t vaccinated and may have been exposed to measles to stay home, Melnick said, but added that the risk of infants being infected is low. Antibodies pass from mothers to their babies through the placenta in the last few months of pregnancy, lasting for about a year.
“I can understand why they feel the way they do,” Melnick said. “But we’re not at a stage where I think the low risk means you need to keep your infant at home.”
Still, the Gosses are taking no chances.
“I just didn’t want children who you don’t know where they’ve been possibly coming in and infecting my infant,” Christina Goss said, while Faye cooed from her play mat on the floor.
Shep, a chubby-cheeked, Paw Patrol-loving kid, took the news that his party had been canceled in stride. After all, there were still plenty of presents, a “Christmas cake,” (which it turns out is just a snowman-shaped cake) and barbecue ribs with grandma and grandpa.
But a couple hours after the decision was made, Christina Goss said he asked a question to tug at the heartstrings: “Where did my birthday go?”
“It’s just scary,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s 2019 and we’re sitting here worried about the measles.”