As news of the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest continues to spread, local health officials have noticed an interesting trend: Some minors are reaching out and asking if they can get vaccinated without a parent’s consent.
“We’ve actually just had a teenager who questioned our immunization clinic, wanting to get immunized without her mother’s consent,” Dr. Donald Baird, Humboldt County’s public health officer said recently. “We don’t have the authority to do that. But I think you are going to see more science- or fact-based teenagers.”
During a call this week, he said that’s exactly what has happened.
“We have had a couple phone calls questioning that,” he said.
But unlike confidential STD or pregnancy counseling, which is allowed for minors in this state, California does not allow minors to receive a vaccine without a parent’s consent. That consent must come from a blood relative or someone with legal standing in the youth’s life, such as a foster parent.
Baird said that is something health officials are talking to state legislators about changing. There are 13 states in the nation where the practice is legal, including Washington state, which as of Saturday afternoon had 60 confirmed cases of measles across two counties, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Another four confirmed cases linked to the Washington outbreak have been reported in Oregon’s Multnomah County, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
In the months since the outbreak began, Humboldt County medical professionals have noticed a spike in the number of people looking to get vaccinated, Baird said.
Multiple requests for comment from Open Door Community Health Centers, which operates multiple clinics across the county, about the trend were not returned before the Times-Standard’s publishing deadline. A local doctor associated with the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society also did not return a request for comment.
There have been 101 reported cases of the measles as of Feb. 7 across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But that number is likely to change as cases continued to be reported.
According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been two separate cases of measles in California in 2019, but neither case was related to the outbreak to the north.
“Both were related to international travel, but unrelated to each other or to the Washington state outbreak,” said Jorge De La Cruz, a spokesperson for the CDPH, in an email to the Times-Standard.
But there is a concern at a state level that the Pacific Northwest outbreak could affect Californians.
“If introduced into California from either the current outbreak or from travel overseas, measles could easily spread in schools or social networks in California that include persons who have not been vaccinated,” he said. “CDPH is closely monitoring the current outbreaks and continues to strongly recommend that all children be fully immunized against measles.”
Baird also encouraged people to get vaccines.
“I can’t emphasize it enough,” he said. “It’s cost-effective. It’s extremely safe. There is no connection to autism or any other condition. People should protect themselves and their children.”
10 things people should know about measles
- Measles is highly contagious. If an infected person is in a room with unvaccinated people, within two hours 90 percent of those people have been exposed and could be infected with the virus.
- Measles can be fatal. About two of every 1,000 people infected with measles will die. Because the disease attacks the immune system, it leaves patients at risk for diseases like pneumonia or encephalitis, or the swelling of the brain, which in cases that are not fatal can cause severe brain damage.
- There is no cure for the measles. If a person becomes infected, the disease must run its course. But, it is preventable, with a vaccine that is considered 97 percent effective.
- The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR, is available at the Humboldt County Public Health Clinic as well as any of the Open Door facilities and the independent physicians’ offices located around the county.
- Children as young as six months can receive an MMR vaccine, but typically the first dose is given at or after a child is 1 year old. In order for the vaccine to provide a lifetime of protection, an initial vaccine and a booster shot are required. Typically both are done before a child is in kindergarten.
- There is a blood test that can be administered called a titer that can determine whether a person is immune to the virus. The titer tests are given to medical professionals to ensure they don’t acquire the virus when they are exposed to infected people.
- There have been two cases of measles in Humboldt County in recent years: One was in 2014 and was related to the outbreak at Disneyland that inspired the state’s legislation on vaccines a few years later. The other case was in 2011, according to the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services.
- Symptoms for measles include a high fever — it can exceed 104 degrees — as well as red, watery eyes; a runny nose; sore throat; and a telltale rash that typically starts behind the ears.
- If someone has been exposed to measles, they must be isolated from the public for 21 days. That means no work or school during that time period.
- Typically, it takes about 9-10 days for a person infected with measles to recover from the virus. The patient is contagious for several days before the rash occurs, and it takes several days more for the rash and the fever to subside. If infected, the rash and the fever must be gone before a person can return to normal activities.
Sources: Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Washington State Department of Health
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.