Washington State has reported that 37 people have come down with the measles over the past few weeks, and warnings have been sent all the way to Idaho to be on the lookout for the highly infectious disease.

Pamela Whitney is an RN at the Missoula City County Health Department and an infectious disease specialist. Whitney emphasized that there have been no confirmed cases of the measles in Montana, and is a strong supporter of vaccinations for all types of diseases.

“Few medical interventions compete with vaccines for their cumulative impact on health and well being of entire populations,” said Whitney. “Now we have routine vaccinations for children that target 16 vaccine-preventable diseases. The number of deaths that vaccines prevent is just huge. It’s just really important to think about vaccines if you’re able to get them because they do prevent diseases and they do protect the health of the rest of the community.”

Whitney addressed the widespread belief that vaccines can cause or exacerbate conditions such as autism.

“Andrew Wakefield, and this was years ago, did a research paper at the insistence of an insurance company,” she said. “He looked at the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and he stated that MMR causes autism. Well, science has proven him wrong. He lost his license. Now, we have Jenny McCarthy, who is an anti-vacciner, and she’s trying to spread myths, as well. Vaccines do not cause autism.”

Whitney emphasized the importance of what is called ‘herd immunity’.

“It’s so important for everyone who can to get vaccinated,” she said. “If you could get close to 95 percent of people vaccinated for the MMR, that creates herd immunity, and so therefore we can actually eradicate some diseases if enough people are vaccinated and that disease is now allowed to come into the community and circulate.”

Whitney says the MMR vaccine is available at the Missoula City County Health Department.