Measles, whooping cough, mumps and other diseases are spreading that were largely eradicated in the U.S. As a result, the fight over vaccinations for children has escalated nationwide and particularly in the California legislature, where lawmakers are trying to ban students from attending state colleges, government-funded preschools, and more without proof of vaccination.
The Disneyland measles outbreak continues to spread, and now public health officials report 103 people have contracted the virus since the outbreak began after someone infected visited the theme park in December. This outbreak is occurring about 15 years after measles was basically eradicated in the area.
With measles, whooping cough and other diseases re-emerging in California and elsewhere, many legislators and the state’s two U.S. Senators are moving to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. In addition, the University of California will require vaccinations for admission in the future.
California is currently one of 20 states that allow parents to not vaccinate their children because of personal beliefs. An estimated 13,260 California parents filed “personal-belief” forms exempting their kindergartners from vaccinations (about 2.5 percent of kids that age), according to the state Department of Public Health.
Anti-vaccination proponents have claimed for years that the vaccines create other problems. The vaccination rate varies widely in California. It is over 7 percent in some counties. Statewide, the rates of unvaccinated children are noticeably higher where there is more home schooling, private school attendance, or immigrants.
Those opposed claim the state cannot force them to have their child vaccinated. But, the state can prevent the child from attending school.
Gov. Jerry Brown is reportedly open to legislation that would eliminate all but medical waivers. The governor’s flexibility shows how the fight over vaccinations in California has escalated, and momentum toward limiting exemptions has grown in the face of flare-ups of measles, whooping cough and other preventable illnesses.
A new bill in the state legislature would eliminate parents’ ability to seek the personal-belief exemption. All children would have to be vaccinated to enroll in school, unless a medical condition, such as a undergoing chemotherapy, precludes them from receiving the shots. As California’s Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, put in a letter, “Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.”
Some pediatricians are also taking a stand and refusing to see patients who did not get vaccinated. “Parents who choose not to give measles shots, they’re not just putting their kids at risk, but they’re also putting other kids at risk – especially kids in my waiting room,” one Los Angeles pediatrician said.
In another move, the University of California system will require incoming students to have been screened for tuberculosis and received the vaccines for measles, rubella, mumps, meningococcus, chicken pox, tetanus and whooping cough, starting in Fall 2016 and be refused admission starting Fall 2017, unless they have a medical or religious exemption. Shots against hepatitis B are currently the only requirement, but some campuses within the system have implemented additional ones.
Furthermore, unvaccinated children in the Head Start and Early Head Start programs have three months to get their shots up to date. That will not affect many, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Head Start programs have a high measles vaccination rate of about 96 percent (compared to a rate of 87 percent for those in private child care facilities.
While public health officials are concerned that the number of people with measles in California escalated so quickly, they believe the resulting fight over vaccinations is a good thing. It has raised public awareness about the need for vaccinations.
By Dyanne Weiss