Vexing vaccination violators


Terms like herd immunity and anti-vaxxers are now commonly understood, thanks to the recent measles outbreak and heightened awareness of the number of unvaccinated children.

The “personal belief exemption” (PBE) phrase is another term we’re all now familiar with. There is a category for religious belief exemptions as well. Both categories need to disappear.

So hurray for Calif. state senator and pediatrician Richard Pan for introducing a bill that would remove the exemptions and only allow medically fragile children to enter school without vaccinations. This would apply to all schooling options – public, private and home-school.

Calif. senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein weighed in on the issue two weeks ago, sending a letter to the state’s Dept. of Health and Human Services, urging the elimination of both the personal belief and religious belief exemptions for immunizations.

We’ve all heard by now of the increasing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against this potentially deadly disease because of unsubstantiated fears that vaccines are dangerous – when the opposite is true.

The decision not to vaccinate healthy children endangers public health, confounds scientists and baffles medical researchers who have proven beyond a doubt that there is no link between vaccinations and autism, the big fear.

Science has been getting a bad rap lately – but it’s science, for heaven’s sake, not water cooler gossip.

Vaccinations work to protect children from deadly diseases like measles. And the earth is round, not flat – and well over 6,000 years old.

The anti-vaxxers’ choices are based on no medically proven research and have no basis in scientific fact, but anyone can find support for any flaky idea somewhere on the Internet.

Measles is a highly contagious virus spread through the air that can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“It is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected,” CDC states.

The CDC advises that children be given their first dose of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) at 12 to 15 months and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age.

Last week, Fortune wrote about California’s exasperatingly prevalent denial of scientific evidence in the case of measles, noting that in 2000 the CDC declared measles all but eliminated in this country, with 95.4 percent of children entering kindergarten who had received their MMR shots.

“That number now stands at 92.6 percent – teetering on the border of an effective herd immunity rate for the disease,” Fortune states.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in a recent report on the measles outbreak, “Public health experts say when 8 percent or more of a population is unvaccinated, ‘herd immunity’ is lost and diseases like measles can spread quickly.”

We are now uncomfortably close to that 92 percent.

Many say it’s fine if parents choose not to vaccinate their children, who are helpless victims in this debate, because it’s their own kids who will be affected.

But the anti-vaxxers jeopardize not just their own kids but children who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated. The practice also endangers babies and children too young to have had the required two doses.

Besides, that attitude is a bit harsh because it assumes society has no responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us from neglect and harm.

It’s actually not fine to tolerate personal decisions that health experts say can cripple or kill children, either by withholding vaccinations or by denying medical treatment that is highly likely to prevent death or minimize suffering.

When personal or religious beliefs clash with reality and endanger the lives of other children, these exemptions really have no place in the education system.

Local schools

Areas with higher rates of unvaccinated children tend to be in more affluent communities.

Although this link provides numbers for last year, it’s still a very cool site that allows users to key in any school and see vaccination rates:

Encinitas has a high percentage of the unvaccinated, as do many local private schools, including Encinitas Country Day, Horizon Prep and the Nativity School in Rancho Santa Fe, and Santa Fe Montessori, St. James Academy and Santa Fe Christian in Solana Beach.

These private schools, along with many local public schools, exceed the threshold established by the state of 2.5 percent for unvaccinated children.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District enrolls a total of 695 students, 446 in the K-5 elementary school and 249 in the 6-8 middle school.

Of the total, 56 students – about 8 percent – have opted out of the MMR vaccine based on a “personal belief” exemption. This means only 92 percent of RSFSD students are protected.

The Del Mar Union School District has a total of 4,405 students in grades K-6, and about 3.8 percent, or 166 students, opted out based on personal beliefs.

Seven out of eight DMUSD schools exceed the state threshold of 2.5 percent:

The Solana Beach School District enrolls 3,171 students in grades K-6, and 106 (or 3.3 percent) have “personal belief” waivers.

Four out of seven SBSD schools exceed the state threshold of 2.5 percent:

The numbers for all three local school districts are for this school year and were obtained last week from each district’s superintendent’s office. Shown are the number of students who have not received the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine. [Some opted out for medically valid reasons and are not included in these numbers.]

Recently, an intriguing suggestion has surfaced that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children should be recognized as a public health hazard and have their names disclosed publicly. Perhaps that might motivate stubborn parents to do the right thing by their kids.

So might the movement by some forward-thinking pediatricians to refuse to accept as patients any unvaccinated children, out of a sense of duty to protect the health and well-being of those children whose parents understand the importance of immunizations.

Questioning authority is not in itself a bad practice. But in this case, it’s time for anti-vaxxers to listen to the experts.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at