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Parents vaccinating children earlier than normal after measles outbreak

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As public health officials in the Pacific Northwest are trying to get a grasp on the quickly spreading measles outbreak, parents are moving fast to vaccinate their children.

Pediatricians are being flooded with calls from families who want to know if they should bring their infants in sooner than the recommended vaccination age of 12 months.

Dr. Allison Keading, a pediatrician herself at Seattle Children’s, rushed her one-year-old, Camille, in for her MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine Tuesday. Normally, babies have their MMR vaccine during their scheduled well-child visit, but Keading asked her daughter’s pediatric clinic in Ballard for the vaccine now — instead of during her appointment a few weeks from now.

“Getting the vaccine as soon as possible provides her with a little bit of protection,” Keading said.

Keading said measles was a disease she never thought she’d see in her lifetime, let alone worry about her child contracting. She said she has spent days worrying about her daughter’s safety and about the safety of the children she treats.

Keading works with children battling bone marrow and blood disorders. She is also a cancer researcher. Though she has been vaccinated, she worries if she’s exposed to measles she could somehow be a carrier and pass it on to her patients.

“It can be fatal or cause lifelong neurological abnormalities. But in someone who doesn’t have a functioning immune system it can be even worse,” Keading said.

Dr. Beth Ebel, from UW Medicine, said Tuesday it’s unclear to public health experts how bad the outbreak really is.

“This is absolutely of concern, this is an outbreak of measles and we’re very worried about it. It’s in the early stage, so we don’t know what’s going to happen with it,” Ebel said.

The Washington State Department of Health reports 36 cases of measles in Clark County and one in King County. The Oregon Health Authority reports one confirmed case in Oregon.

On Tuesday, the epidemiologist for the state of Hawaii reported they had two cases of measles — from unvaccinated children who had flown to the Big Island from southwest Washington.

Last week Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak. Ebel, who is on staff at Harborview Medical Center, said local doctors are working closely with the Department of Health to coordinate resources.

While Ebel recommends parents continue to follow the recommended vaccine schedule, of giving children the measles vaccine at the age of 1, she said parents of unvaccinated infants or children with compromised immune systems need to be vigilant. She said they need to openly ask people before going to large gatherings if the attendees are vaccinated.

Ebel said if parents believe they or their children, no matter the age, were exposed they need to contact a doctor immediately.

Keading said people who don’t vaccinate their children, for whatever the reason, need to realize it’s a decision that’s drastically impacting their community and putting the lives of children at risk.

“I’m doing everything I can to protect our family, but I still have these existing worries about other kids,” Keading said.

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