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April 4, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Ignore Jenny McCarthy. Local measles cases prove importance of getting vaccinated

Were you in King, Whatcom or Pierce counties this past weekend? Did you go to the Kings of Leon concert? Or downtown Seattle?

I hope you’ve got your measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot. Because this press release from King County is a powerful reminder that not getting vaccinated could really endanger public health:

A person who was confirmed with measles traveled to several Western Washington public locations while contagious. Most people in our state are immune to measles, so the public risk is low except for people who are unvaccinated. The woman traveled to Seattle for a Kings of Leon concert at Key Arena on March 28, when she also was at the Best Western Loyal Inn and the Wasabi Bistro. The next day, she was at Beth’s Café, Aurora Suzuki, Starbucks at First and Pike, and the Pike Place Market.

The Washington State Health Department has posted the full details of the unidentified woman’s time in each location. State officials also report one confirmed measles case in San Juan County. Between March 21 and 22, a traveler going through SeaTac was also diagnosed with the disease, which is highly contagious.

This undated photo shows a child with a classic day-4 rash with measles. (Photo courtesy of CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice)

This undated photo shows a child with a classic day-4 rash with measles. (Photo courtesy of CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice)

The lesson? Protect your kids. Protect yourself. Get immunized. Read an Aug. 31, 2013 Seattle Times editorial, too, about the state’s embarrassing seventh place ranking among states where parents demanded vaccine exemptions for their kindergarten-aged kids.

In 2000, CBS News reports measles was close to being eradicated. Today, there are two measles outbreaks in New York City and Orange County. No surprise: many of the victims are unvaccinated children. I can’t stop thinking about those parents who refuse to protect their kids from deadly illnesses because they’ve been led to believe vaccines cause side effects such as autism. This  misguided belief places the rest of the community at risk.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog, has some answers to explain the madness.

Swanson was interviewed Wednesday evening on the public radio program “To the Point” about the rise of vaccine-preventable diseases. Shots to prevent measles, mumps and rubella were so profoundly successful over the years, Swanson suggests “parents forgot about the risks.”

Though she says social media is a powerful tool to share information, Swanson says the speed with which misinformation can spread has led many parents astray. Somehow people continue to believe the bogus claims of celebrity moms such as Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari, who both ignore mainstream science when they say there’s a connection between vaccines and autism.

Here’s an excerpt and reality check from Swanson’s April 1 blog post:

We get confused with all the attention paid to these outliers. We forget that about 9 out of 10 parents in the United States DO immunize following their doctor’s recommended schedule. We forget not a single study finds an alternative schedule is any safer. We forget that unvaccinated and under-vaccinated kids are at risk for preventable disease. We get confused how stories like this make us feel and we ditch what the science tells us. We forget that when we immunize ourselves we protect our body, the children too small to be immunized and those at high risk for severe infection.

I feel parents are being duped.

Another contextual piece to check out is Princeton neurologist Sam Wang’s March 29 op-ed in the Sunday New York Times. Wang calls out the media for focusing most of its collective coverage of autism risk-factors on the vaccine issue, which has been widely debunked. Here’s what he concludes more than 100 scientific papers published over the last two decades tell us so far about actual risk factors:

Although autism is believed to have a gene-based beginning, growing brains are also influenced by their environment and external events. Looking at when these risks are greatest can provide clues about when the growing brain is most vulnerable. Based on a large body of evidence, the known hazards occur before birth and fall into three broad categories: prematurity, prenatal stress and brain development.

Comments | Topics: Autism, measles, public health


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