Between December and February, vaccinations to prevent measles jumped 27 percent compared with the same period last year in Washington. A high-profile outbreak at Disneyland may have contributed, health officials said.

Share story

Fueled in part by growing reports of measles cases nationwide — including a high-profile Disneyland outbreak — vaccinations to prevent the highly contagious disease jumped by 27 percent in Washington state this winter, compared with the same December-through-February stretch a year ago.

In King County, the shots surged by just over 20 percent during the three-month time frame, mostly among children ages 5 and younger, health officials said. They jumped 19 percent in Snohomish County.

But in tiny Clallam County, where five of the state’s eight measles cases were reported and an unvaccinated kindergartner sparked an outbreak scare, measles immunizations climbed from 229 last year to 952 this year — an increase of 316 percent.

“I do think part of this is the response to the Disney measles outbreak,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the Washington state epidemiologist for communicable diseases. “You had increased media coverage of the problem.”

A contagious traveler spread the disease to unvaccinated visitors to the Orange County, Calif., theme park, eventually infecting 146 people, including 131 this year, health officials said. As of March 27, the U.S. has seen 178 cases of measles in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

But Lindquist said there’s more to it than that. Media coverage has led to wider discussion of the need for vaccinations, including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and the MMRV vaccine, which includes a dose to prevent varicella, or chickenpox. He said more people have learned about “herd immunity,”the level of immunization required to prevent disease from spreading in those who can’t be vaccinated.

“There’s more public awareness and more public dialogue about vaccinating kids,” Lindquist said, noting the pendulum of public opinion swings widely on this issue. “It feels more likely we’re swinging toward a community value of immunizing kids.”

That’s despite the failure of a bill in the Legislature this year that would have removed Washington’s personal-belief exemption, making it harder for parents to choose not to vaccinate.

Across the U.S., nearly 92 percent of children aged 19 months to 35 months have received at least one MMR vaccination. In Washington, the rate was 93.5 percent, according to the 2013 National Immunization Survey.

In King County, 13,070 doses of MMR and MMRV vaccines were administered from December 2013 to February 2014, about 3.5 percent more than in the previous year, records from the federal Vaccines for Children program indicated.

But from December 2014 to February 2015, 15,744 doses were given, an increase of more than 20 percent, noted Libby Page, manager of the immunization assessment and promotion program for Public Health — Seattle & King County.

“In the winter months, there’s usually a drop,” she said.

Nearly all the increase was in kids 5 and younger. There was a big bump among babies younger than 1, from 86 with shots to 242, a rise of 181 percent. There was another bump among kids ages 7 to 10, from 273 who got shots from December to February last year to 503 this year, a boost of 84 percent.

In Snohomish County, measles shots jumped from 4,126 in the three-month period ending in February 2014 to 4,914 for the same period this year, a 19 percent increase.

Statewide, 39,825 doses of MMR and MMRV vaccine were administered between December 2013 and February 2014. This year, the number climbed to 50,710 doses, an increase of 27 percent, according to Department of Health figures.

Measles is a particular worry, because the disease was eradicated in the U.S. in 2000 but has sparked outbreaks among certain communities of unvaccinated children and adults nationwide. It’s a highly contagious virus that can cause deafness, seizures, brain damage and death, particularly in children.

Because the pendulum of vaccination acceptance swings so widely, some health officials have suggested that efforts to boost immunization might backfire. because of a backlash from vaccine foes.

But Lindquist said he’s not worried as long as more kids are protected.

“The point of this is it’s a good thing,” he said. “It saves lives and it saves money.”