Clark County measles outbreak may be nearing the end

The county’s public health officer provided an update on their response to the outbreak on Wednesday

VANCOUVER — There’s cautious optimism within the Clark County Public Health office that the measles outbreak may be winding down. The number of confirmed cases remains at 65 for the third day in a row, with no more suspected cases or exposure sites.

Doctor Alan Melnick, Clark County public health officer. Photo courtesy Clark County
Doctor Alan Melnick, Clark County public health officer. Photo courtesy Clark County

“I’m just thankful we haven’t had more cases associated with the schools,” said Clark County Public Health Officer Doctor Alan Melnick at Wednesday’s Board of Public Health meeting. A total of 14 schools were listed as exposure sites.

The outbreak has had 293 students without vaccinations excluded from six Evergreen schools, 398 students excluded from four Battle Ground schools, and 138 excluded from three Vancouver schools.  Two other private schools also had exposures.

Melnick said the response to the outbreak has been massive, with 219 people involved in the crisis response. Much of that work included contacting people who may have been exposed and actively monitoring them.

“At one point we had a couple of hundred folks that we were actively monitoring,” said Melnick, noting that doing so required daily calls to check in on them.

The statewide and county emergency declarations brought in extra help, including 50 state Department of Health officials, along with 17 mutual aid employees, and even two people from Idaho. Melnick said tests are being done at the Washington state lab, as well as the one in Oregon.

So far the total bill just for Clark County is over half a million dollars, Melnick says. Overall,  “we’re well over seven figures.”

Among the most hazardous elements of the outbreak were cases reported at local emergency rooms, hospitals, and doctor’s offices.

“There’s a likelihood that there’s people there who are particularly at risk for complications from measles,” says Melnick. Patients with compromised immune systems, pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated, and children too young to be vaccinated are particularly at risk of complications due to measles. Melnick says several pregnant women were given doses of measles immunoglobulin.

Melnick says fortunately many of the recently confirmed cases were in people already being actively monitored and kept at home. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is gathering data on how effective the quarantine program has been, and also tracking the effectiveness of the immunoglobulin given to more susceptible patients.

Vaccine legislation

The county has passed a resolution in support of a bill introduced by Clark County representatives Paul Harris (R-Vancouver), and Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), which would eliminate non-medical exemptions for the MMR vaccine. A companion Senate bill would eliminate personal exemptions for all vaccines.

“This isn’t really an issue of an individual’s personal right to decide not to be vaccinated,” said new County Councilor Gary Medvigy. “It’s really an issue for a greater good. It’s an issue for the community at large.”

Melnick says it has been difficult seeing many of the anti-vaccine theories posted on their social media pages, many of which he insists have been thoroughly debunked. But, he adds, they’re trying to meet people where they are at.

“If we can get past the judgment and listen to people, and listen to their concerns, I think we’ll be a lot more effective,” Melnick told the board.

Council Chair Eileen Quiring noted that a recent hearing on the vaccine exemption bill brought nearly 800 people to Olympia to testify, most in opposition.

“I believe the science, and I am not anti-vaccination,” said Quiring, “but I am pro parent choice and pro parents. And so I do think we need to listen to where they’re coming from, and I don’t think it’s always just from misinformation that they get on the web.”

Vaccine momentum

Even without legislation being passed, Melnick says CDC data shows vaccinations are up sharply in the county. Over this five-week period last year, vaccinations averaged just over 200 per week. As of the middle of last month, that rate was up to nearly 2,000 vaccinations.

But as of last week, that rate had already begun to tail off, and Melnick said he suspects people may go back to their old ways.

“I don’t think we’d be getting on an airplane if there were 400-500 people who were dying in airplane crashes every year,” Melnick said, referring to the average death rate due to measles in the United States prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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