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Vaccinate children against measles

It’s hard to believe we have to do this again, but here goes: There is an active measles outbreak in the Portland area because parents did not vaccinate their children. It is possible new cases could turn up here. One case has been confirmed in Bend. If you have children who are old enough to be vaccinated against measles and they are not immunized, just get it done. Please.

The current outbreak now stands at 38 cases, most of them in and around Vancouver, Washington. An additional 13 cases are suspected, and are awaiting the results of blood tests. Nearly all the cases are children.

One person in Multnomah County has measles linked to the Clark County outbreak. One person from the Seattle area who visited Vancouver contracted the measles while there, and two children from Clark County were quarantined in Hawaii when they came down with the disease.

Public health officials in Southern Oregon are on high alert for the possibility that new cases could happen here. Measles is highly contagious, spreading easily through the air, and the virus can live up to two hours in an isolated space. People who have never been vaccinated are highly susceptible to contracting the disease from an infected person.

What concerns health officials most is low rates of vaccination. While in Jackson County as a whole, 93 percent of school-age children have received both doses of vaccine, there are pockets of unvaccinated children in Ashland. At Siskiyou School, only 29 percent of students have received both doses. Public health officials say a vaccination rate of 92 to 94 percent is necessary to confer herd immunity, protecting those too young or too immune-compromised to be vaccinated.

In the Vancouver area, the vaccination rate is just 66 percent — 77 percent in Clark County as a whole — largely because too many parents believe conspiracy theories and junk science about the alleged dangers of vaccines. Once an outbreak starts, it can easily spread to other areas, and places such as Ashland are at greatest risk because of low vaccination rates.

This is not an academic exercise. It is a real threat to public health. Make no mistake: Measles can have very serious effects on those who contract it, and it can be fatal.

Vaccines do not cause autism, despite slick websites that claim otherwise. What they do is prevent serious childhood diseases. Before the measles vaccine was widely available, 400 to 500 people died every year. About 1,000 suffered swelling of the brain, which can cause lifelong problems.

The good news: Getting immunized within three days of exposure can prevent the disease or lessen its symptoms. Getting vaccinated before any known exposure is even better.

Just do it.