Washington is now under a state of emergency as the measles outbreak continues to worsen. Governor Jay Inslee made the announcement Friday, warning residents to get vaccinated if they are not already.
“Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be fatal in small children. Almost everyone who is not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus,” Inslee said in his statement. He added that the current outbreak is “an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread.”
As of Sunday, there have been 35 confirmed cases of the highly contagious infection since January 1 along with nine more suspected cases. Of those cases, 24 occurred in children between the ages of one and 10.
Officials have yet to determine the source of the outbreak, which has mainly affected residents of Clark County in southeastern Washington. However, many, including Dr. Alan Melnick, the Clark County public health director, believe it could be tied to low immunization rates.
“All this stuff that we’re going through and the cost, the suffering and potential complications that we’re going through here are completely preventable through an incredibly safe, incredibly effective, incredibly cheap vaccine,” he told ABC News.
Washington state is one of only 18 in the country that allows vaccine exemptions for both religious and personal belief reasons. And the rate of vaccination among kindergarteners in Washington is on the decline. In Clark County, for instance, it’s down to 76.5 percent from 91.4 percent 10 years ago. And in San Juan County, the region with the lowest rate, a mere 47 percent of kindergarteners receive the measles vaccine.
Governor Inslee tweeted on Friday that “those who are not vaccinated may spread the disease without knowing” and that the Washington Department of Health “urges everyone to check their records to verify that they are immunized.”