Clark County measles outbreak grows, vaccination rates plummeting

by Keaton Thomas, KATU News

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver has posted security guards to look for symptoms of measles. (KATU Photo)

Public Health officials in Clark County announced Monday the measles outbreak grew to 22 confirmed cases, with three more suspected, and they revealed three more possible exposures locations.

The most recent confirmed case was an un-vaccinated child under 10 years old. There are now more than 30 possible exposure locations in Oregon and Washington.

Of the 22 confirmed cases of measles, 19 people were not vaccinated. Since 2004, state health department data shows the number of vaccinated kindergartners is plummeting.

According to publicly available statistics, more than 91.4 percent of all kindergartners had completed all their immunizations in the 2004-2005 school year. That number fell to 76.5 percent in the 2017-2018 school year.

For measles, the number of vaccinated kindergartners fell from 96.4 percent to 84.5 percent over that same time period. The statewide vaccination rate for measles was 90.6 percent in the 2017-2018 school year.

The World Health Organization says the number of measles cases has grown 30 percent worldwide. It says “vaccine hesitancy” is one of their top-ten threats to global health in 2019.

Clark County Public Health officials created an automated phone system to call people that may have been exposed to measles. That phone call will go out at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. In the past, nurses would call potentially exposed people, but they switched to an automated system because of the sheer number of possible cases.

At PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, security guards are posted at five entrances around the building to look for symptoms. They are advising children and people who are not vaccinated against measles to not visit the hospital.

“Measles is a relatively rare disease, so it’s been an interesting week,” said Dr. Jason Hanley, the Emergency Department Medical Director.

The disease is extremely contagious and spreads through the air. The virus can last two hours after a contagious person leaves the room.

Hanley says they have seen a handful of possible measles patients recently. He says they reserved special rooms in their ER for patients to prevent measles from spreading to the rest of the hospital.

“We take people outside of our normal triage area. We take them outside and into a room that is vented ‘negative-pressure’, which means we take the air up and out of the emergency department rather than spreading it to patients or other staff members,” Hanley said.

If you are concerned you or your child may have measles, officials say you should call your medical provider before visiting. If you need to visit the emergency room, Hanley says you should call them before arriving so they can be prepared.

How ER doctors in Vancouver are handling the measles outbreak:

The uphill battle public health officials are facing when it comes to vaccinations: