In A Measles Outbreak, Demand For Vaccine Spikes

Charles VerheyELA

By Kristian Foden-Vencil
February 11, 2019
Lexile®: 1000L – 1100LM

More than 50 people have now been infected by the measles in an outbreak across southwest Washington state and northwest Oregon, and doctors and nurses say it’s spurring people to get vaccinated.

At Sea Mar Community Health Center in Vancouver, Wash., administrator Shawn Brannan says that so many have been coming in for a measles shot recently that they had to order almost 10 times as much vaccine as usual.

“Larger populations that typically don’t vaccinate their children for their own reasons are now in a mad dash, if you will, to get vaccinated,” says Brannan.

He said many patients are from the former Soviet Union, where distrust of government runs deep.

But he says the clinic is also getting lots of other patients with their own reasons not to vaccinate.

“It’s the Google monster unfortunately,” says Brannan. “Once people Google, they find all these warnings and adverse reactions. And it can sometimes blur what’s really important for the child or even people to get.”

Brannan thinks people also see their kids getting colds this time of the year–with runny noses, red eyes and coughs–and worry it might be measles. Colds and measles have the same early symptoms.

Clark County public health director Dr. Alan Melnick is exasperated.

“I mean, this is a lousy way to get vaccination rates up,” says Melnick. “I wish we had vaccination rates up ahead of time. I wish it didn’t take an outbreak and one child already being hospitalized.”

The Washington State Health Department says about 530 people were immunized against measles in this area last January. This January, there have been more than 3,000 immunizations.

Across the Columbia River in Portland, Ore., nurse practitioner Nancy Casey helps run the Health Center at Roosevelt High School.

She has had kids come to her to catch up on their shots because their parents didn’t believe in vaccination. She remembers one particular 16-year-old.

“The child said, ‘you know my mom really doesn’t believe in vaccines, but I’m thinking that I want to start,'” says Casey.

Oregon law allows children 15 or older to consent to physical health care. So, Casey can vaccinate them without first informing a parent.

Casey says she asks students who come to her for shots questions like “why doesn’t your parent want you to have vaccines?” “Do they know that you’re here?” And “What would they say if they knew you were here?”

She also asks what they know about the disease the vaccine is formulated to prevent, and why that could be beneficial.

“It’s helping them be advocates,” Casey says. “And then we do go over scenarios. Like, ‘What if your mom finds out because you tell them?'”

In the case of the 16-year-old, the student got the vaccines from Casey and the parents never saw a bill because it went to an Oregon Medicaid program.

“And by the end of her catching up to her immunization schedule over like a year and a half period, she had told her mom,” says Casey. She says the student’s mother wasn’t thrilled, but didn’t make an issue of it.

Across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Wash., Shona Carter sits at home as she has been doing for months now.

She has leukemia, which means doctors had to kill off her immune system and give her a new one in the form of a bone marrow transplant.

But a new immune system has to adapt to diseases all over again.

“I mean, you’re a baby. You’re brand new. You have to get all of your vaccines redone,” says Carter.

“Some of them you can’t have done immediately because they’re like live weakened vaccines,” Carter says. “So the measles is important for me to get, but I can’t have it right now.”

Carter’s immune system isn’t strong enough, so the outbreak has her very worried.

But there’s not much she can do except follow doctors orders like staying at home, using lots of hand sanitizer and wearing a mask.

“I don’t want any setbacks,” says Carter.

“One of my fears is getting something like the measles which could… potentially kill me because I’m not strong enough to fight it off,” she says.

Measles can kill or blind, but that’s rare.

Authorities say the outbreak is still evolving. They don’t expect it to end any time soon.

Washington and Oregon are two of 17 states that let children go to school unvaccinated because of personal beliefs. Both state legislatures are now considering changes to those laws.

Questions Using Close Reading and Critical Thinking:

  1. The first section of an article should answer the questions “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, and “Where?” Identify the four Ws of this article. (Note: The rest of the news article provides details on the why and/or how.)
  2. Does this article have any bias? Why or why not?
  3. According to the article, some parents see their kids getting colds and are worried it is measles. What are the measles? What are the symptoms, and why is it dangerous? How did the outbreak in Washington start? Search for the answer in this article:
  4. The Washington State Health Department has seen an increase in the number of vaccinations. How many more vaccinations did they have this January in comparison to January of 2018? Search for the answer in the NPR article.
  5. Name four reasons why people refuse to get vaccinated. Look online if you need help answering this question.
  6. Oregon law permits children 15 years of age and older to receive health care without the consent of their parents. Who is Nancy Casey, and how is this law affecting her right now?
  7. Who is Shona Carter, and why is she worried about contracting measles?
  8. Oregon and Washington are 2 out of 17 states that allow children who are unvaccinated due to personal beliefs to attend school. Do you agree with this policy? Why or why not? Defend your position in a paragraph of 8-10 sentences.

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