Washington Measles Outbreak 2019: Demand for Vaccines Spikes 500 Percent in Clark County

A county in Washington dealing with a measles outbreak affecting at least 50 people has witnessed a 500 percent spike in demand for vaccines, compared with the same period last year.

State Health Department figures seen by Kaiser Health News show orders of two forms of measles vaccines have risen from 530 in January 2018 to 3,150 last month. That amounts to a rise of almost 500 percent.

Meanwhile, the state's Vancouver Clinic said it had given 1,444 shots in January 2019, a 450 percent jump from the 263 seen in the same period last year. Across the state, demand for vaccines to protect against the potentially deadly disease climbed by 30 percent, from 12,140 to 15,780, according to figures seen by Kaiser Health News.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella, as well as MMR-V, which offers a barrier against the virus that causes chickenpox. The vaccine generally works within three days of being administered.

Virginia Ramos, an infection control nurse at the Sea Mar Community Health Center, which offers the vaccine in Clark Country, told Kaiser Health News that an outbreak can cause an "influx" of vaccine-hesitant patients seeking shots that protect against measles.

"We're just happy that we're prepared and that there is vaccine available," she said.

Since the start of the year, the number of people diagnosed with measles has been gradually climbing in Clark County, prompting Governor Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency in Washington.

The latest figures released by Clark County Public Health show 51 cases, 36 of which involve individuals between 1 and 10 years old, have been confirmed. A further 13 cases are suspected. Of the total, 44 individuals were unvaccinated, while the status of a further six was unverified. One individual had only one of the two MMR shots required to be protected, but the details regarding why are unclear.

Clark County Public Health said a fourth patient who was immunized for the first time after being exposed to measles fell sick because they received their shot more than 72 hours after coming into contact with the virus. "To prevent illness, one dose of MMR vaccine must be given to unimmunized people within 72 hours of exposure," Clark County Public Health said on its website.

Health officials have also released a list of locations where individuals may have encountered measles, ranging from schools to hospitals and supermarkets.

When between 90 and 95 percent of a population is vaccinated, what is known as herd immunity is created. This means a tiny portion of the population that can't safely be vaccinated, such as newborn babies and children with cancer, will also be protected. The immunization rate in Clark County in December 2018 was just 78 percent.

Measles is a disease caused by a highly contagious virus, which is passed on when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In those who are not protected by the vaccine, measles can be dangerous, particularly in children under 5, adults over 20, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems.

"As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children," Clark County Public Health warned on its website. "About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability. Measles may cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely or to have a low-birth-weight baby."

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Rates of vaccinations have spiked by 500 percent in a Washington community hit by a measles outbreak. Getty Images