An outbreak of measles in southern California has ignited a nationwide debate over whether parents should have the choice to vaccinate—or not vaccinate—their children.
Diseases which had been essentially eradicated in the U.S. are now making a sudden comeback, and many believe this is due to the number of children who, per their parents’ requests, are no longer getting vaccinated.
The CDC reported that during the 2013-2014 school year in California, there were 1,000 medical exemptions and 17,000 philosophical exemptions from vaccination.
According to chief student services officer Heath Rocha, there are currently 110 students (4 percent) in CUSD who are exempted from either all or part of the required immunizations, but only 10 students who have been exempted specifically for medical reasons.
Without either producing documentation proving full immunization or providing proper exemptions, students cannot be admitted to a CUSD school. Full immunization depends upon the student’s age or grade, and includes vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis (polio), varicella and others designated by the California Department of Public Health.
The two circumstances under which exemptions are granted are (1) a written statement from a physician which certifies that, due to a student’s physical or medical condition, it would be unsafe for the student to have one or more immunizations, and (2) a letter or affidavit from a parent/guardian stating which immunizations have or have not been given on the basis that they are against said parent/guardian’s belief.
A survey from the Pew Research Center indicates that 68 percent of U.S. adults believe that vaccinations for children should be required, while 30 percent think that parents should be given the choice to vaccinate their children.
According to Dr. Jill Airola of the Monterey Peninsula Pediatric Medical Group, vaccines protect millions of lives, including those of individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to young age or immune system problems. Furthermore, they prevent complications that occur after an illness, such as paralysis with polio or encephalitis with measles. However, Airola admits that vaccines create soreness at the spot of injection and can cause a slight fever or, very rarely, a high fever.
Though she acknowledges both the positives and negatives, Airola refutes some of the common misconceptions regarding vaccines—specifically, the notion that they cause autism.
“I have practiced pediatrics for 20 years, and have not had a bad outcome from vaccinating children,” Airola notes. “No cases of autism after 20 years of practicing medicine.”
Airola explains that parents who choose to not have their children vaccinated often find “research” on the Internet that influences their decision.
“It is frustrating to talk to parents who don’t think these illnesses can harm their child,” Airola says of diseases like polio and measles.
Though the recent debate was started by a measles outbreak, there have been no reported cases on the Monterey Peninsula. Instead, the biggest problem on the peninsula is pertussis, or whooping cough, which can last for several weeks in adults and teenagers, but is deadly for newborns and infants.
For vaccinations to truly work, communities must meet the threshold for “herd immunity,” which is usually between 90 and 95 percent of the total population, according to PBS.
The number of exemptions in CUSD remains within the threshold, so a measles-like epidemic is not likely to happen any time soon.