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More than 50 people have been infected by the measles in the Pacific Northwest. Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the outbreak is prompting people to get vaccinated.
KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL, BYLINE: Sea Mar is a community health center in Vancouver, Washington. It caters to low-income and undocumented people. Administrator Sean Brannon says so many have been coming in for measles shots, they had to order 10 times as much vaccine as usual.
SHAWN BRANNAN: I've noticed that in larger populations that typically don't vaccinate their children for their own reasons are now in a mad dash, if you will, to get vaccinated.
FODEN-VENCIL: One of those population groups includes people from the former Soviet Union, where distrust of government runs deep. Others have their own reasons not to vaccinate.
BRANNAN: Unfortunately, once people Google, they find all these warnings and adverse reactions and it can sometimes blur what's really important for the child.
FODEN-VENCIL: And in some cases, people see their kids with cold symptoms and worry it might be measles so they come in for vaccines, too. Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick is exasperated.
ALAN MELNICK: I mean, this is a lousy way to get vaccination rates up. I wish we had vaccination rates up ahead of time. I wish it didn't take an outbreak and one child already being hospitalized.
FODEN-VENCIL: The Washington State Health Department says about 500 people were immunized against measles in this area last January. This January, there've been more than 3,000. Across the Columbia River, in Portland, Ore., nurse practitioner Nancy Casey helps run the health center at Roosevelt High School. She remembers a 16-year-old who came to her to get shots.
NANCY CASEY: The child said, you know, my mom really doesn't believe in vaccines, but I'm thinking, you know, I want to start. And so we get into a conversation 'cause a lot that happens here is, well, why doesn't your parent, you know, want you to have vaccines? And, you know, do they know you're here? And what would they say if you were here?
FODEN-VENCIL: Oregon law allows kids 15 or older to consent to physical health care. So she teaches students about vaccines and helps them decide what to do and whether to call their parents. The 16-year-old decided to get the shots. Her parents never saw a bill. It was sent to a state Medicaid program.
CASEY: And by the end of her catching up to her immunization schedule over, like, a year and a half period, she had told her mom. And her mom was not thrilled, but she respected it.
FODEN-VENCIL: Back across the Columbia River, in Vancouver, Wash., Shona Carter (ph) sits at home. She has leukemia, which means doctors had to kill-off her immune system and give her a new one in the form of a bone marrow transplant. The trouble is her new immune system is just that - new.
SHONA CARTER: Well, I mean, you're a baby. You're brand-new. You have to get all of your vaccines redone.
FODEN-VENCIL: Right now, her immune system isn't strong enough to get the measles shot, and the outbreak has her very worried. So she follows doctor's orders, staying at home all the time, using lots of hand sanitizer and sometimes a mask.
CARTER: I don't want any setbacks. And this is one of my fears, is, you know, getting something like the measles that could potentially kill me because I'm not strong enough to fight it off.
FODEN-VENCIL: Measles can kill or blind, but that's rare. Washington and Oregon are two of 17 states that let children go to school unvaccinated because of personal beliefs. Lawmakers are considering changes. For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Vancouver, Wash.
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