In California, science beats out personal beliefs
Remember that measles epidemic this past winter—the one that sickened over a hundred people and had millions worrying about this vaccine-preventable disease? California sure does, and it just did something major to prevent it from happening again. They are now the largest state to require vaccines and reject exemptions for anything other than medical reasons, ending both personal and religious exemptions for vaccination in children attending public school. Quite simply, it means “no shots, no school” for California’s millions of school children.
This is a big deal. California would only be the third state in the US to have such a strict vaccine law (Mississippi and West Virgina are the others) and is perhaps the last place one would have thought this would happen. Up until the measles outbreak began at Disneyland in 2014, Californians were notorious for exercising their personal belief exemption. In some schools, over 50 percent of students had a personal exemption on file, with many of those children having some or even none of the recommended vaccines. As one could imagine, advocates on both sides of this issue are passionate.
Vaccinating nearly all children helps protect the few but vulnerable ones who cannot be given immunizations. It’s a concept referred to as herd immunity and is integral to preventing an outbreak of a highly contagious disease such as measles. For herd immunity to work, a population of people needs approximately 94 percent of its children to be immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In California, more than 25 percent of all public schools have immunization rates lower than 94 percent, putting vulnerable students at risk and effectively eliminating herd immunity. Interestingly, according to 2013-2014 data, Mississippi leads the country with over 99 percent of its Kindergarteners having received both doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
As a pediatrician, I rely on herd immunity to protect my patients with weak immune systems like those with cancer or congenital heart diseases. I encourage parents to vaccinate completely and on time. According to the CDC, my state reports 93 percent of its Kindergarteners are up to date with their MMR. So I still have some work to do to reach the goal.