A letter to the editor about vaccinations, published Feb. 20 in the Whidbey News-Times stated, “House Bill 1638 mandates the removal of religious and personal exemptions allowed for Measles, Mumps and Rubella — MMR — vaccines,” and “Gov. Jay Inslee declared an emergency in marketing this bill.”
Both of these assertions are misleading and need to be corrected. House Bill 1638 removes the philosophical or personal exemption for the MMR vaccine, but not the religious beliefs exemption; and Gov. Inslee declared a state of emergency on Jan. 25, 2019, which was the same day the bill was introduced by 15 co-sponsors in the House, acting in a bipartisan fashion and independent of his declaration.
The letter to editor failed to mention the preventable tragedy taking place predominantly in Southwest Washington.
As of Feb. 20, there were 64 confirmed measles cases with all but one from Clark County.
Sixty of those cases were under the age of 19, and 55 of those infected were not immunized, according to the Feb. 21 Seattle Times.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, which spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The MMR vaccine is very safe and 97 percent effective in preventing measles if two doses are received.
Before 1963, when the measles vaccination program began nationwide, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people contracted measles each year.
Of those cases, approximately 500,000 cases were reported to the CDC. And, of these cases, 48,000 were hospitalized, 1,000 developed encephalitis, or brain swelling, and 400-500 died.
Since then, the widespread use of the vaccine led to a greater than 99 percent reduction in measles cases.
For the 2017-18 school year, the nationwide non-medical exemption rate for kindergarten enrollment was approximately 2 percent, according to the CDC.
On the other hand, the Washington state exemption rate for personal, philosophical or religious reasons was 4 percent.
For Clark County, the number was 6.7 percent, according to state health department data.
Cost of Washington’s measles outbreak has already exceeded $1 million, as more than 200 health department staff members from the state and Clark County have focused their efforts on the outbreak.
This amount represents taxpayer money and health professional staff time/effort that is being diverted from other worthy public health measures, according to the Seattle Times.
When individuals make personal choices that affect the health of others and lead to preventable costs to society, those choices must be viewed from a greater-good perspective.
With the well-being of Washington’s residents at stake, the governor has acted responsibly, and the legislature is on track to further protect the public’s health.
Those personal choices include avoiding vaccinations.
Marshall F. Goldberg, M.D., M.P.H.