CLARK COUNTY, Washington — The United is currently home to six ongoing measles outbreaks. But with 70 confirmed cases, Clark County, Washington in particular, has gotten a lot of attention. It’s quickly become a classic example of what happens when parents hesitate to vaccinate their children. Still, the spread of a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease hasn’t been enough to change everyone’s minds about vaccines.
Washington State Senator Lynda Wilson told VICE News during a recent interview that she believes the measles vaccine has caused more harm than the disease itself — a statement that has been debunked by multiple peer-reviewed studies, including a massive study published this week. She also said she hasn’t actively reached out to any scientists or doctors to verify her opinion on the matter. “I’m kind of busy up here, and so I’m just dealing with what I’m getting from my constituents,” she said.
The measles is a nasty disease that can lead to serious complications, including swelling of the brain and pneumonia. It also kills around 1 or two children out of every 1000 who become infected. That’s why scientists recommend the vaccine, which is both safe and effective. But right now, Clark County has an unusually low vaccination rate.
So, Senator Wilson’s view of vaccines aren’t just emblematic of the crisis — they could also have an impact on upcoming legislation. A proposed bill would eliminate one of Washington’s non-medical vaccine exemptions, the philosophical exemption, and Senator Wilson has already said she plans to vote to keep the exemption. “I don’t believe that everyone should be having to do them,” she said, in reference to vaccines.
Despite having vaccinated her own children when they were younger, Wilson doesn’t think parents should be required to do so with their own kids — at least not American parents. “The cases are coming from out of the country,” she said. “So, you know, maybe what we should do is start thinking about requiring vaccinations if you’re coming into our country. Maybe they should be vaccinated instead of requiring all of our people to be vaccinated.”
The CDC says that the current measles outbreaks are linked to travelers. But there’s little evidence to suggest that vaccinating visitors to the United States would be at all effective. That’s because the measles vaccine, called MMR, is only 93 percent protective after a single dose, so people who aren’t vaccinated can still get sick. That’s why scientists say it’s important for communities to reach a certain vaccination rate — a concept called “herd immunity.” When a high number of individuals in a community are vaccinated, that limits the spread of disease and prevents those who, for medical reasons, cannot be vaccinated from becoming sick.
“Measles continues to exist in other countries and within the United States,” a spokesperson for Clark County Public Health told VICE News. “As long as measles is present elsewhere, it’s only a plane, car, train or boat ride away from our community and will continue to be a risk for our community or any community with large unvaccinated populations.”
Senator Wilson says the current outbreak is under control. Moreover, she says the people who were infected will benefit from the disease. “We didn’t have any deaths, and we didn’t have any hospital stays. So I don’t know that it’s unacceptable,” she said. “I mean, now these people have full immunity for the rest of their lives.”
VICE News went to Washington state to see how the measles outbreak is impacting a parent, a pediatrician, and a legislator.
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