THE INFECTIOUS DISEASE HAS NOT SPREAD IN ALASKA — YET
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, the Centers for Disease Control has reported 159 cases of measles in 10 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
Measles is a highly contagious disease. It can be deadly, particularly for those who have other medical issues or frailties. Like mumps, pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria, it’s prevented through vaccination.
While 159 is not a big number, it’s more than all the cases in the U.S. in 2017. As of Friday, 71 of the cases were in Washington state, where Alaskans travel routinely. Both Alaska and Washington state have lower-than-average immunization rates.
The current outbreak led to a congressional hearing on Feb 27 that was not widely covered by the media, what with all the other political drama of the week concerning the testimony of Michael Cohen.
“I do believe that parents’ concerns about vaccines leads to undervaccination, and most of the cases that we’re seeing are in unvaccinated communities,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued a public health advisory in late January with information about the disease and vaccinations.
Does the country have an emerging epidemic, or are fears overblown?
All of the outbreaks have been linked to people traveling overseas who were not vaccinated against the disease, and who brought it home with them. The Philippines, where many Alaskans also travel, is a hot spot for measles, with over 11,000 cases this year alone. One cruise ship traveler to Alaska last year had measles and ended up in the hospital in Ketchikan. The teenager had acquired the disease in Thailand and had not been vaccinated.
In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. But a growing number of American parents have become wary of the large number of vaccinations being forced on young children, with concerns that some of the vaccinations may lead to serious side effects such as autism or death. Thus, the herd immunity that protected the unvaccinated has diminished.
The anti-vaccination movement is growing across the globe, to the extent that the World Health Organization identified it as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019.
The hesitancy comes from sincerely held believes that there are unknowns regarding vaccines, as well as strong streak of libertarian resistance to having government force vaccines on children.
In late January, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to confirmed cases of measles in Clark and King Counties, where more than half of all confirmed cases of measles in the United States have occurred. Now, lawmakers in Olympia are considering tightening the “opt-out” rules that allow parents to avoid immunizing their children by simply checking a box that states they have a religious or personal belief that exempts them from the mandatory shots.
While 17 states allow a “personal belief” exemption, Alaska is not one of them, which means only religious exemptions exist for not immunizing children before they are allowed to enroll in school or at some day care facilities. If an outbreak occurs in a community, those non-vaccinated children can ben excluded from school attendance until the disease runs its course.
What is your opinion on mandatory vaccinations for Alaska’s children? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.