Measles outbreak prompts vaccine awareness

Data show four percent of UP students do not have the MMR vaccine

By Gabi DiPaulo | February 6, 2019 7:25pm

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A measles outbreak in parts of Washington and Oregon have prompted a discussion about vaccines. Photo: Unsplash

As measles cases multiply in the Vancouver-Portland region, health officials emphasize the importance of vaccinations. More than 50 cases have been reported in Clark, King and Multnomah counties since early January. 

In almost every instance, the infected person had not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The outbreak has shed a light on a debate of individual rights versus public health and myths versus science.

Although there have been no cases reported at the University of Portland, Kaylin Soldat, family nurse practitioner at the Health and Counseling Center, wants students and parents to know how crucial vaccinations are.

“We need to keep the vaccination rates high enough so that measles stays eradicated,” Soldat said. “In my experience, the number one reason folks don’t vaccinate their children is misunderstanding.” 

According to Stacey de Assis Matthews, school immunization coordinator at the Oregon Health Authority, the MMR immunity rate among UP students is 96 percent (2017-18). This means the latest public data available shows 4 percent of UP students (roughly 156 individuals) opted out of the MMR vaccine. In Clark County, the epicenter of the measles outbreak, the immunity rate of residents aged 6-18 is only 78 percent

Vaccinations are required for enrollment at UP. But the university can grant an exemption through a student’s personal medical provider. Vaccine exemptions were designed to accommodate for medical restrictions, such as an autoimmune disease, religious restrictions or philosophical objections, which could be rooted in any personal belief regardless of false information. Oregon is one of 17 states in the United States that allow students to attend class with a philosophical exemption.

The “anti-vaxxers” movement still thrives in many pockets of the United States. Some anti-vaxxers cite a debunked study from the 1980’s that falsely linked vaccines to autism. Some parents avoid vaccines because of anecdotal “evidence,” citing a friend of a friend’s child who was diagnosed with autism shortly after their MMR vaccine, or a cousin’s child who had a high fever after their first shots. Others may avoid vaccinations because they believe they are unnecessary, arguing that diseases such as measles have already been eradicated in the United States. 

But the battle against measles is not over. Lower vaccination rates can lead to higher death rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), measles is so contagious that it can linger in the air of a room and infect new hosts up to two hours after the infected individual leaves. The World Health Organization estimated that between 2000 to 2017, the measles vaccine prevented 21.1 million deaths.

The MMR vaccine is typically given to infants between 1 and 4 years of age, according to the CDC. The first MMR vaccine ensures 93 percent protection against measles. The second dose provides 97 percent protection. If you are not vaccinated and want to be, head to a local pharmacy, such as Walgreens.

“It’s never too late to be vaccinated,” Soldat said. “Even though (this outbreak) has been going on for a while, go ahead and do it as soon as you can.”

The symptoms of measles can initially feel like just a cold with red eyes, a fever and a runny nose. After a few days, a red rash will spread from the face downward. For the average college student, it’s a nasty flu. At its worst, measles can kill infants and small children whose immune systems don’t have the capacity to fight it. 

Soldat urges any student experiencing measles symptoms to call the Health and Counseling Center immediately. If you think you might be infected, the safest thing to do is stay in your room because of the highly contagious nature of the disease. Soldat said that the probability of a student on campus catching the disease is low, but she wants to remind the student body to take care of themselves. 

“Get enough sleep, take time for yourself, eat well, and get vaccinated,” she said. 

Gabi DiPaulo is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at dipaulo21@up.edu.

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