At least ten states across the country have reported cases of measles thus far in 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The Washington State Health Department reports that there have been 51 confirmed cases of measles throughout the state of Washington. Nearly all of those who contracted the virus were not immunized against the disease, and a majority of those affected were children between one and ten years old. Clark County health officials say that out of the 50 cases in that county, only one person had been vaccinated.
Only four cases of measles have been reported in Oregon according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). The OHA has listed 15 places within Multnomah County where measles exposures have been reported, including a January 11 Portland Trail Blazers game, a Costco, a Fred Meyer, and other various public spaces.
There has been a growing number of people across the country who are against the use of vaccines, commonly known as “anti-vaxxers,” because they believe that the vaccines are doing more harm than good. Portland and Southern Washington have some of the highest rates of vaccine exemptions in the country. “If we don’t have the basic understandings of how our bodies work, then we don’t understand why we need things like vaccines,” said Nick McCarthy, a long-time health teacher at Franklin High School. “I think that’s part of the problem of why people aren’t getting vaccinated. They just don’t understand their bodies.”
When McCarthy teaches his unit on the immune system and diseases, he tries to make things as objective as possible. “I make what I’m teaching in class very clear. It’s not political, it’s not an opinion—this is science,” he said.
Currently, Oregon, Washington, and 13 other states allow a minor to get vaccinations without a parent’s consent. This isn’t a well-known fact for many teens living with parents who are against vaccinations.
The measles vaccine known as MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) is a cocktail of vaccines that are recommended be taken in two doses. The first dose of MMR will be 93% effective and the second will bring the effectiveness to 97% which nearly eliminate the chance of contracting measles.
Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, it was expected that nearly every child would contract measles by the age of 15. Out of the 3-4 million Americans who were infected each year, roughly 50,000 people were hospitalized, and 500 people.
Following the introduction of the vaccine, the disease was finally declared eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000, but recent trends have changed this. The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has reported that the eradication of measles is under great threat by a resurgence of the disease in countries where it was almost eliminated. Recently, the WHO put vaccine hesitancy on its list for the top ten threats to global health in 2019 among the likes of HIV, climate change, and dengue fever.
“When these vaccines (polio & measles) came out, people lined up for these shots… There were lines around the block just to get a vaccine,” McCarthy said. “There are things that we take for granted with vaccines and the way that our society deals with diseases today that were totally different before them.”
Data provided by the OHA shows that 97% of Franklin students are vaccinated against measles and 94% of students have all their vaccines. Of the students with non-medical vaccine exemptions, only 45 students do not have the measles vaccine, and only 27 students do not have any vaccinations at all. This means an infected and unvaccinated student could potentially spread measles other unvaccinated students during school and get them sick. “Not having the measles vaccine puts other students who don’t have that vaccine in danger,” explains McCarthy. “This is all unacceptable.”
When viruses, like measles, infect someone, they take control of a human cell and use it to replicate and spread their disease. If everyone were immune to the virus there wouldn’t be any way for the disease to spread; this is called herd immunity. Although not everyone needs to be vaccinated against a specific virus, the levels of vaccinations need to be above 90% for herd immunity to be effective.
“The people who are not protected with vaccines are at danger. When we have people voluntarily choosing not to get a vaccine, they’re not only hurting themselves, but they’re hurting others,” McCarthy said. “Not everyone can get a vaccine. So what are they going to do?”