Measles outbreak brings U.S. Surgeon General to Washington

SEATTLE — The measles outbreak has U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, M.D., M.P.H.,

visiting Washington state to get a better understanding of the problem here.

"I appreciate what you do each and every day," Adams said to staff at Seattle's Odessa Brown Children's Clinic on Thursday.

The Surgeon General is in Seattle after visiting Vancouver -  the heart of Washington's measles outbreak.

“Did you gain any insight on what's causing so many parents there to opt out?” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked Adams.

“It’s important to understand 91 percent of people in this country actually believe in vaccinations,” Adams said.

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He said among the other 9 percent, many people are simply hesitant about vaccines and want their questions answered in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner. Some are single parents who have trouble finding the transportation or time to get their kids vaccinated.

“Most of these outbreaks are occurring in small pockets, but each of these pockets is unique,” Adams said. “Here we got an outbreak largely among people of eastern European descent. Everyone has different reasons,” he said.

Health officials also mentioned bills the Washington State Legislature is considering, which could eliminate personal exemptions.

“Do you have a stance on getting rid of personal exemptions or philosophical exemptions?” Sun asked Adams.

“The science tells us the states who have more than medical exemptions available, have lower vaccination rates and are at higher risk for vaccine-preventable outbreaks. So I go around and try to help folks understand, that when you provide these additional exemptions, you're putting yourself at risk,” Adams said.

“We have to make it easier for people to get vaccinate than for them to get exemptions. And I hope that is a sentiment that is taken into account when folks are discussing these complicated issues,” Adams said.

The number of measles cases has stayed at 71 for the five days, but Washington's Secretary of Health said we are still weeks -- or months -- away from being declared measles-free.

“We are seeing some hopeful signs of some slowing but we are not out of the woods yet. We will not know we are out of the woods until 42 days after the last case is diagnosed,” said WA State Secretary of Health Dr. John Weisman.

He said there is a silver lining to the outbreak.

“When people think they're at risk, they actually do get vaccinated. Down in Clark County about 200 vaccines for MMR would've been given each week during this time of the year, that has shot up to over 1,000 - so we know people are responding,” Weisman said.

The panel of health leaders said even though the outbreak is showing signs of slowing down, it’s critical to stay vigilant – and there is still a need for anyone who is able and still not immunized, to get the MMR vaccine.

“The threat is still real. And when we let our guard down, we’re letting our community down, we’re letting our families down, we’re letting down people who can’t get vaccinated,” Weisman said.

The Surgeon General said people rely on one another to vaccinate when possible for protection of the whole community.

“My wife actually has cancer and she relies on the social contract of other people getting vaccinated to provide that community immunity. That’s what we want folks to understand and that’s why we’re here today,” Adams said.