In California, there were more cases of measles reported in January 2015 than there were in all of 2014, and since measles is highly contagious, those numbers have continued to climb. Since December, there have 113 documented cases of measles in the state, the most in any of the 50 states, with the majority of the infected being unvaccinated individuals.
Tulare County measles-free
This is an unprecedented number of measles cases with most linked to a December outbreak at Disneyland starting with an infected person from out of the country. To date, there have been no documented cases of measles in Tulare County, according to Kathy Johnston, RN, program manager of the School Health Programs at the Tulare County Department of Education. The closest known measles infection was in Fresno, about 70 miles north of Three Rivers.
If measles breaks out in any Tulare County school, all unvaccinated children will be directed to stay home as they are the most likely to be sickened and to spread the disease. The reappearance of measles after decades of dormancy has public health experts worried.
“It says there are far too many people in our nation who aren’t protected from disease by immunization,” said John Swartzberg, an emeritus professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, in California magazine last month. “We don’t have that herd immunity that widespread vaccination once provided.”
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, issued a statement earlier this month urging parents to inoculate their children.
“As a science teacher, I have reviewed the science and can tell you the vaccines have been proven safe and effective for those students who are healthy enough to get the immunizations,” he said. “They keep your child and your community protected.”
To vaccinate or not
Herd immunity happens when a significant portion of any group has been vaccinated, reducing the likelihood of contagious disease passing from individual to individual.
In recent years, the rate of vaccinations in California has been dropping. According to state figures released in December, about 90.4 percent of the 535,332 students enrolled in reporting kindergartens had received all their vaccinations.
Families can apply for a Personal Belief Exemption not to vaccinate their children. State law requires any family who is not vaccinating their children to meet with a health professional to discuss the implications of the decision.
At Three Rivers School, with its 145 students, fewer than 70 percent of the kindergarteners have all the required vaccinations. This is according to an interactive map provided by the California Department of Health, which tracks the immunization reports submitted by school districts. The map lists TRUS in the “Most Vulnerable” category.
According to Rick Rodriguez, principal at Woodlake Union High School, of the 640 students enrolled, 636 of them, or 99.375 percent, have received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Four students at WHS have exemptions for immunizations. The CDH map rates Woodlake High in the "Safest" category.
Immunization study results
Lower education levels and socioeconomic status are associated with higher completion rates for vaccination, according to the February issue of The American Journal of Public Health. In this report, scientists studied data on 11,860 families from the National Immunization Survey, a nationwide survey of vaccination among children 19 to 35 months old that includes information on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Rates of compliance were also higher in Hispanic and black low-income families. This is a demographic more likely to trust the advice from their physicians.
“There is a controversy among more educated mothers about the safety of certain kinds of immunization,” said Dr. Jennie Kronenfeld, a professor of sociology at Arizona State University and the senior author of the study.
Pros and cons
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children receive 28 doses of 10 vaccines by the time they are six years old. No U.S. federal laws mandate vaccination, but all 50 states require certain vaccinations for children entering public schools. Most states offer medical and religious exemptions, and some states allow philosophical (“personal belief”) exemptions.
In the 19th century, it wasn’t unusual to lose a child to a contagious disease. Proponents of vaccinations say that they are safe and one of the greatest health developments of the 20th century. Illnesses, including polio, diphtheria, smallpox, rubella, and whooping cough (pertussis), are now prevented by vaccination and millions of children’s lives have been saved. They say adverse reactions to vaccines are rare and the association with autism and other developmental disorders have been disproven.
Opponents say that children’s immune systems can deal with most infections naturally and that injecting questionable vaccine ingredients into a child may cause side effects, including seizures, paralysis, and death. They contend that numerous studies prove that vaccines may trigger problems like autism, ADHD, and diabetes.
Measles is a highly contagious disease, and the incubation period is three weeks. Infected people are contagious for four days before developing the telltale rash along with a fever and cough.