Public health officer: Cost of Clallam measles outbreak could reach $200,000

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The cost of controlling a measles outbreak in Clallam County hasn't been tallied yet but could be as high as $200,000, Jefferson County's public health officer said.

In the measles outbreak on the North Olympic Peninsula, five cases — three adults and two juveniles — were diagnosed in Clallam County beginning Feb. 1. No cases have been confirmed in Jefferson County.

“Controlling an outbreak of measles is extraordinarily expensive, but without those efforts, the cost would have been much higher and we would have had many more than five cases,” Dr. Tom Locke, formerly also the public health officer for Clallam County, told Jefferson Healthcare hospital commissioners Wednesday.

Clallam officials have said the window of possible infection — the time during which public health officials could expect more cases — is open until April 19.

Outbreaks of contagious diseases such as measles are preventable when a sufficient percentage of the population is immunized against them, Locke said.

Immunity rates above 90 percent are considered safeguards against outbreaks, Iva Burks, Clallam County Health and Human Services director, has said.

As few as 56 percent of schoolchildren in Port Townsend schools and 89 percent of children in Port Angeles schools have complete immunity against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), hepatitis B and varicella (chicken pox), according to the Department of Health.

“We need to correct the misconception that the vaccines are risky and the diseases we are trying to prevent are not,” Locke said Wednesday.

Locke said parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are endangering the general public.

“We are one of only 19 states that allow personal exemptions, and we should change this,” he said.

“When an unvaccinated child is in school, there is an increased personal risk to other students and the community.”

The notion that parents should not vaccinate their children for moral or political reasons is misguided and dangerous, Locke said.

“We have a high rate of philosophical exemptions in Jefferson County, people who believe the risk of vaccinations outweigh the benefits,” he said.

“A significant number of parents are ignoring the requirement to vaccinate their kids, and the schools aren't enforcing that.

“I think the time has come to end that practice.”

A bill that would have removed personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines as an authorized exemption from childhood school immunizations died in the state House earlier this month.

When a child of any age enters a public or private school, the parent or guardian is required to show proof of successful vaccination, an exemption signed by a health care provider or a statement that vaccination is planned.

“If you do not meet one of these criteri,a you should not be allowed to enter school,” Locke said.

According to statistics gathered by the state Department of Health's immunization program for the 2013-14 school year, Jefferson County ranks 30th in the state's 39 counties in its rate of complete immunizations, with a 48 percent compliance.

The analysis of the numbers was prepared by Siri Kushner, an epidemiologist for the Kitsap Public Health District, who has not compiled comparable data for Clallam County, Locke said.

In Jefferson County, vaccinations can be obtained from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays for walk-ins at the county Public Health Clinic, 615 Sheridan St. and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays by appointment at Jefferson Healthcare hospital's primary care clinic, 915 Sheridan St.; call 360-379-8031.

Clallam County offers immunizations at 111 E. Third St., Port Angeles, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Wednesday. Call 360-417-2274 for more information.

Locke also talked Wednesday about the issue of abortion services in Jefferson County.

No such services are provided in the county now. Those seeking abortions are referred elsewhere.

The American Civil Liberties Union has told hospital officials that it interprets the law to mean that a hospital that provides maternity services also must offer abortion.

Jefferson Healthcare has assembled a task force to study reproductive services and make a recommendation to hospital officials.

Officials should find out what services are wanted and where people want to get them, Locke said.

“Not everyone who seeks to have an abortion wants to have it locally,” he said.

“A lot of our focus in health care these days is the regionalization of services,” Locke said.

“We are never going to have every service in Jefferson County.

“We are never going to have a burn unit or a neurosurgeon or a cardio-cath lab.

“It doesn't make sense to provide those services on this scale.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 27. 2015 8:17AM
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