The Voluntarily Unvaccinated Are Harming Other People in California Measles Outbreak

Anti-vaxxers it's past time for you to get over your superstition and get your kids vaccinated.



The number of cases from the Disneyland measles outbreak has now risen to 88. Of those whose vaccination status is known, the vast majority who have come down with disease have been unvaccinated. One might retort that vaccine refuseniks get what they deserve, but most of them are children who are suffering for their parents' irresponsibility.

Unfortunately, it's not just anti-vaxxers and their kids who suffer. Infants under one year of age cannot be vaccinated. People infected with measles are contagious four days before they experience any symptoms and four days after the characteristic rash has appeared. Virus particles lingering on surfaces and in the air are highly contagious, with perhaps 90 percent of unimmunized people coming down the disease if exposed to it. According to news reports about a quarter of the people infected in the current outbreak have been hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there were 644 cases of measles in 2014, up from around 50 in 2012.

Dr. Eric Handler, the public health officer for Orange County, California told NPR's Morning Edition today that he is advising parents to be very cautious about taking their infants to public places like malls right now. But why should responsible people stay home; why not make irresponsible people stay home? NPR further reported:

At the beginning of school Handler told parents that if there were a measles outbreak they would have to prove that their child was vaccinated or their child would be excluded from school for 21 days. At one county high school 24 students have been told to stay home. "We gave them plenty of notice and I'm sure that they are not happy and hopefully this will incentivize them to get vaccinated," said Handler.

A recent study from Kaiser Permanente found undervaccinated children in Northern California tended to live the same area which can magnify outbreaks. Peditrician Tracy Lieu headed the study which found a greater likelihood of undervaccinated children in neighborhoods where more parents had higher education.

A local NPR story reports how vaccine refuseniks in Northern California endanger people like Rhett Krawitt, a six year old who is in remission from leukemia and so cannot be vaccinated yet. As NPR reports:

Rhett lives in Marin County, Calif., a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of "personal belief exemptions" in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of children in Marin have a personal belief exemption, which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more.

Carl Krawitt [his father] has had just about enough. "It's very emotional for me," he said. "If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that's your responsibility, that's your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then … your action has harmed my child."

It is darkly amusing that some parents apparently fretted at a school meeting that children might die from an allergy attack if they are exposed to peanuts in class.

The irony was not lost on [Krawitt]. He told me he immediately responded, "In the interest of the health and safety of our children, can we have the assurance that all the kids at our school are immunized?"

He found out later from a friend that other parents who were present were "mad that you asked the question, because they don't immunize their kids." …

Now Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have emailed the district's superintendent, requesting that the district "require immunization as a condition of attendance, with the only exception being those who cannot medically be vaccinated."

Finally, at least six people who were vaccinated have also come down with disease as a result this outbreak. As Wired explains, the vaccine is 97 percent effective, but that still means that 3 percent of responsible folk who did get vaccinated can still become infected. Why? Not everybody's immune system manufactures the right amount of antibodies to provide protection against the disease.

Anti-vaxxers it's past time for you to get over your superstition and get your kids vaccinated.

For more background, see Reason's "Should Vaccines Be Mandatory?" debate.