Utah doctors stock up on measles vaccine as outbreak worsens in other regions

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Utah doctors said Thursday they were ordering a larger supply of the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine as an outbreak originating in Washington spreads to Oregon and threatens surrounding states, including Utah. 

The outbreak comes as new studies show increasing populations in Utah and other states who are opting out of vaccination for philosophical reasons. In Utah, patients can claim “non-medical exemptions” from vaccination without any legal consequences. In California, however, vaccinations are mandatory unless directed otherwise by a doctor. 

Currently, all 50 states require vaccinations for students. In some states, including Utah, religious exemptions are granted. 

Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare’s Salt Lake Clinic said Thursday parents were coming in earlier than planned to get booster shots for their children due to the outbreak in the Northwest, which has put a strain on public health systems. 

“When you have a population that isn’t fully vaccinated, then you can have outbreaks,” said Dr. Tamara Sheffield with Intermountain Healthcare. She added the United States population is less than 95 percent immunized to the measles due to an increasing number of people who are not vaccinating their children. The anti-vaxxer movement has contributed to that number, Sheffield said. She told ABC4 many have concerns that vaccinations for diseases like the measles contribute to autism in children, though multiple scientific studies have debunked that theory. 

“There is no link between the MMR vaccine and people who develop autism,” Sheffield said. 

Chelsea Cutler entered the facility with her daughter Mollie, 5, for her booster shot containing the MMR vaccine. Cutler said the outbreak is concerning, but she knows her daughter is protected because she was vaccinated as an infant. 

“It’s nice we live in a day and age where we can fight against [measles],” Cutler said. Though Mollie was very nervous about the shot, her mom promised it would keep her healthy – and that she would get ice cream after the appointment. 

Doctors said Thursday the measles vaccine was 97 percent successful in protecting against the virus. 

Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare are stocking up on the vaccine as health providers prepare for an influx of concerned citizens looking for a booster as the measles outbreak continues. 

“We’ve done two things: one is to make sure there is plenty of supply of the vaccine and we’ve been preparing our offices to look for signs of people with the measles rash,” said Sheffield. Symptoms of the measles include fever, cough, runny nose and a rash. Sheffield urged patients who believe they may  have the measles virus to contact their health clinic first before leaving their home to see a doctor, as they may expose others who are not vaccinated. 

In some cases, measles can cause pneumonia, swelling of the brain and death. 

Health officials were also concerned about an outbreak in Utah because of travelers who may fly from Portland or Seattle to Salt Lake City. Sheffield said 9 times out of 10, an unvaccinated person sharing tight quarters (like an airplane) with someone who has the virus will catch it. 

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