As Northwestern Pacific public health officials attempt to understand the rapidly spreading measles epidemic, parents are trying to vaccinate their children.
Pediatricians are inundated with calls from families wanting to know if they should have their baby come sooner than the recommended age for vaccination, which is 12 months old.
Dr. Allison Keading, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's, gave her one-year-old Camille her MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) on Tuesday. Normally, babies receive their MMR vaccine during their planned visit, but Keading is now asking for the vaccine at her daughter's pediatric clinic in Ballard – instead of her appointment in a few weeks.
"Getting vaccinated as soon as possible gives him some protection," said Keading.
Keading explained that measles was a disease she never thought she saw while alive, let alone the possibility that her child would contract. She said she has spent days worrying about the safety of her daughter and the children she deals with.
Keading works with children with bone marrow and blood disorders. She is also a cancer researcher. Although she has been vaccinated, she is concerned that if she is exposed to measles, she could be a carrier and transmit the virus to her patients.
"It can be fatal or cause neurological abnormalities throughout life. But in a person who does not have an immune system that works, it can be even worse, "said Keading.
Dr. Beth Ebel of UW Medicine said Tuesday that public health experts have no idea of the severity of the epidemic.
"It is absolutely worrying, it is a measles epidemic and we are very worried about it. It's early, so we do not know what's going to happen, "said Ebel.
The Washington State Department of Health reported 36 cases of measles in Clark County and one in King County. The Oregon Health Authority reports a confirmed case in Oregon.
The Hawaii state epidemiologist said Tuesday he had two cases of measles – unvaccinated children who flew to Big Island from the southwest from Washington.
Last week, Governor Jay Inslee declared the state of emergency because of the outbreak. Ebel, who is part of the staff at Harborview Medical Center, said local doctors were working closely with the Ministry of Health to coordinate resources.
While Ebel recommends that parents continue to follow the recommended vaccination schedule, namely to administer measles vaccine to children at the age of 1 year, she added that parents of unvaccinated infants or children whose immune system is compromised must be vigilant. She said that they should openly ask people before going to large gatherings if participants were vaccinated.
Ebel said that if parents believe that they or their children, regardless of their age, have been exposed, they must contact a doctor immediately.
Keading said that people who do not vaccinate their children, for whatever reason, must realize that this decision has dramatic consequences for their community and endangers the lives of children.
"I'm doing everything in my power to protect our family, but I still have these concerns about other kids," Keading said.