Why vaccinate?

Vaccinate your children, medical officials say, to protect them, and those who can't be vaccinated

With an outbreak of measles continuing to spread, the question of whether parents should be allowed to choose not to immunize their children has become a hot topic.

California requires students in both public and private schools to be immunized, but exempts children from immunization requirements for two reasons: medical and "personal belief."

San Mateo County has lower rates of personal-belief exemptions than many other counties, at 1.85 percent. Marin County is at 6.45 percent, Tuolumne is at 7.36 percent, and the overall state rate is 2.54 percent.

Parents at some local schools, however, have opted out of immunizations for their children at rates high enough that medical experts say they could put at risk those who can't be immunized, including those too young to be fully immunized and those with suppressed immune systems, such as cancer patients.

Menlo Park's Peninsula School, according to statistics from the California Department of Public Health, has the highest reported percentage of personal-belief exemptions in San Mateo County this school year: 30 percent of this year's 30 kindergartners (nine students).

The opt-out rate at Peninsula has been even higher in the past. State statistics show that the school had a 46 percent personal-belief exemption rate for children in its 2010-2011 kindergarten class.

Las Lomitas School in Atherton has the highest public school opt-out rate in the local area. Natalie Siemers, a Las Lomitas District nurse, says the school currently has 137 kindergartners, with eight students opted out with personal-belief exemptions and two others with permanent medical exemptions, for a 93 percent vaccination rate.

Other local schools with high personal-belief opt-out rates for 2014-2015 kindergarten classes, reported by the California Department of Public Health, are:

● Laurel School, Atherton, 5 percent.

● Philips Brooks, Menlo Park, 5 percent.

● Encinal School, Atherton, 4 percent.

The reason the number of children who are not immunized matters, medical experts say, is because high immunization rates offer "herd immunity," protecting those who can't be immunized.

Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County's health officer, says that the rate of immunizations required to confer herd immunity varies depending on how contagious a disease is. Measles, he said, is so contagious that a 99 to 100 percent immunization rate is required to protect the non-immunized.

"It's so likely to be transmitted if you're exposed and non-immune," he said.

Other doctors say 90 percent of those who are non-immune and exposed to measles will catch it.

The state requires five immunizations: DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus), polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) hepatitis B, and varicella (chicken pox). Most children who are opting out of the MMR vaccine appear to not be receiving any of the immunizations.

According to the state's data from November, Peninsula School reported that nine out of 30 kindergartners at the school did not have four of the vaccinations, with 10 students not immunized for hepatitis B.

At Las Lomitas School, which has two kindergartners with permanent medical exemptions, the school reported in November that 10 out of 137 kids do not have four of the vaccinations, with 12 not immunized for hepatitis B.

Kit Sanderson was one of those who depended on herd immunity for her health as a young student. Just before she entered kindergarten at Woodside Elementary School in 2003, Kit was diagnosed with leukemia.

Her mom, Dana Sanderson, says because Kit's cancer treatment had suppressed her immune system, she was in danger from any communicable disease, especially chicken pox. The school reminded all the other kindergarten parents to immunize their children to help protect Kit.

One parent told her, Dana Sanderson says, that while her family had previously made a decision not to vaccinate their child against chicken pox, they had changed their mind when they saw that not doing so could endanger a classmate.

Kit Sanderson, whose family now lives in South San Francisco, is now in high school and is considered a leukemia survivor, her mom says. She is also fully immunized.

In addition to those with compromised immune systems, children too young to be fully immunized are also at risk. The first dose of a measles, mumps and rubella immunization, known as MMR, is at 12 months but children are not considered fully immune until they receive a second dose at age 4 to 6. Many adults received only one dose of MMR vaccine and many medical experts now recommend that anyone 18 or older who was born after 1956, and who has not had the measles, receive a booster shot.

Part of the reason measles is so contagious is that it is spread through the air. Measles, according to Dr. Scott Smith, chief of infectious disease and geographic medicine at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City, "is classified as, if not the most infectious, as one of the most infectious" diseases. It can persist, hanging in the air if you will, even after a patient has left a room or a closed space," he said. Even in Kaiser's specially ventilated isolation rooms, once a measles patient leaves, no one is allowed to enter for two hours, he said.

Because measles is so contagious, the county's policy, which local public and private schools confirm they follow, is to send any non-immunized children home for three weeks when there is a case of measles in their school.

Doctors are required to report all measles cases to the county health department. When a case is reported, San Mateo County's Dr. Morrow said, "we identify all the contacts and usually there are many, if not hundreds." Each contact's immunization records must then be checked and if they have not been immunized, or do not have antibodies showing they have had measles, they must be isolated at home for three weeks.

Last week, on Feb. 4, two California state senators introduced legislation that would eliminate the personal-belief exemption. One of the authors, Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and senator representing Sacramento, said he has "personally witnessed the suffering caused by these preventable diseases."

U.S. senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein also want personal-belief exemptions, including those for religious beliefs, eliminated. "While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces," the senators wrote in a letter to state officials. "As we have learned in the past month, 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."

They also noted that current state law allows "two options for parents to opt out of vaccine requirements for school and daycare: they must either make this decision with the aid of a health professional, or they can simply check a box claiming that they have religious objections to medical care. We think both options are flawed, and oppose even the notion of a medical professional assisting to waive a vaccine requirement unless there is a medical reason, such as an immune deficiency."

Dr. Pan also wrote legislation that took effect in January 2014 requiring parents who want a personal-belief exemption to first talk with a licensed health care practitioner about the impacts to their child and community. This year, for the first time in many years, the rates of personal-belief exemptions went down statewide.

Part of the reason for the decrease, according to Dr. Eric Weiss of the Village Doctor in Woodside, may be because parents who have a chance to talk to a trusted doctor will usually choose to vaccinate their children. At the Village Doctor, which is a concierge medical practice where doctors have few patients and more time than other practices to spend with them, not one family has chosen not to immunize their children, he said.

Having the luxury of spending time with a trusted doctor allows families "to come to a more informed choice about risk and benefit," he said. "If you have a half hour to talk about it, I believe the informed decision is yes."

Measles is not the only disease that has reappeared in recent years. Last year 133 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, were reported in San Mateo County. Statewide, the California Department of Public Health says there were 10,831 reported cases of whooping cough last year, with 376 people hospitalized and 60 percent of those hospitalized younger than 4 months old. Two infants, both younger than 5 weeks old when they caught the disease, died from whooping cough last year.

Dr. Weiss said part of the reason that more and more parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children may be because the diseases being vaccinated against have become so rare that parents cannot imagine their dangers.

"We all know families who are struggling with an autistic child, and we don't know families whose children are paralyzed from polio or dead from a pneumococcal disease or deaf from a pneumococcal infection, (which) were all common problems" at one time, he said.

Kaiser's Dr. Smith said an experience he had about 10 years ago reminded him of the rarity of diseases now immunized against, and their danger to the non-immunized. A patient from Woodside had traveled to a foreign country for work. "He came back with a mysterious illness," Dr. Smith said. "I couldn't figure it out."

That is, he said, until a week later when the man's 12-month-old daughter was brought in to Kaiser with a high fever and a rash. One glance from an older pediatrician confirmed that the daughter, and her father, both had measles, Dr. Smith says.

Coincidentally, the family had just received a reminder phone call to bring the child in for her first MMR vaccination. Other children who were in daycare with the child also got the measles, he said.

"That whole case illustrates a variety of things," Dr. Smith said. "It happens every once in a while" that a disease like measles appears and, he said, can easily spread to those who aren't immunized.

Curious about your school?

Overall immunization rates reported for local schools' current kindergarten classes, according to the State Department of Public Health, range from 67 percent at Peninsula School in Menlo Park to 100 percent at both Woodland School in Portola Valley and Willow Oaks School in Menlo Park.

Click here to see school information, which was due to the state by Nov. 21, 2014. School officials note that the percentages may not be up to date because they include students with incomplete paperwork as not immunized.

Click here to see a KQED website, which has taken the state data for the past seven years and used it to make bar graphs showing each school's percentage of personal-belief exemptions. Use the search box to find the school or city you are interested in.

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9 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:28 pm

The only exemption allowed should be for a medical condition such as compromised immune system. Absolutely no religious or personal belief or personal choice exemptions. No proof of vaccination = no admission to schools, sport teams, day care, public pools, after school programs, amusement facilities (movie theater, Great America, etc.), etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Latest reports from NJ & KY
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Vaccinations are a parental right! Every good libertarian should stand up for our civil rights.

“I have heard of many tragic cases,” said Dr. Rand Paul, “of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

- and -

"I'm a big fan and a great fan of the history of the development of the smallpox vaccine, for example. But you know, for most of our history, they have been voluntary. So I don't think I'm arguing for anything out of the ordinary. We are arguing for what most of our history has had."

Way to stay strong, Rand Paul!

I think.

Similar strength from the paragon of truth to power, Chris Christie, while munching on a waffle: He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as "the best expression I can give you of my opinion."

"But," Christie added, "I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that's the balance that the government has to decide."

So strong! Wait a minute - aren't YOU the government, Mr. Christie?

4 people like this
Posted by Richard Vaughan
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Interesting post from NJ & KY

If only it were so simple to say that one's political beliefs impact only the small sphere of influence or health that an individual has upon the larger society - essentially, stay in your bubble and be happy. However, given the virulence of this disease - it seems to me that the responsible citizen would agree that certain precautions - such as vaccinations - need to be undertaken for the good of society. This goes beyond political theory. We have forgotten how diseases like this were truly feared.... hate to say it but by making these choices these families might suffer the most and take others down with them....

From the CDC website:
Measles can be a serious in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications.

Common Complications

Common measles complications include ear infections and diarrhea.

Ear infections occur in about one out of every 10 children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss.
Diarrhea is reported in less than one out of 10 people with measles.
Severe Complications

Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.
For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
Measles may cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

The Measles chapter of the Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (Pink Book) describes measles complications in more depth.

Like this comment
Posted by acomfort
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

This is for consideration of those who doubt the MSM is telling all the facts.
U.S. Media Blackout: Italian Courts Rule Vaccines Cause Autism
Presiding Judge Nicola Di Leo considered another piece of damning evidence: a 1271-page confidential GlaxoSmithKline report (now available on the Internet). This industry document provided ample evidence of adverse events from the vaccine, including five known cases of autism resulting from the vaccine’s administration during its clinical trials (see table at page 626, excerpt below).
Two years earlier, on May 23, 2012, Judge Lucio Ardigo of an Italian court in Rimini presided over a similar judgment, finding that a different vaccine, the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine (MMR), had caused a child’s autism. As in the Milan case, the Ministry of Health’s compensation program had denied compensation to the family, yet after a presentation of medical evidence, a court granted compensation. There, too, the Italian press covered the story; the U.S. press did not.

- See more at: Web Link

Or search for: "Italian Courts Rule Vaccines Cause Autism"

If you get to this article, note the links to more articles down the right side of the page.
Such as:
"ZERO U.S. Measles Deaths in 10 Years, but Over 100 Measles Vaccine Deaths Reported"

Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Time to start holding parents legally accountable for the havoc they cause by refusing to vaccinate for personal beliefs.

3 people like this
Posted by Latest reports from NJ & KY
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:00 pm

acomfort: your medical expert website is this? "This is our area of specialty, being the leading publisher on Coconut Health since 2001" - See more at: Web Link

Coconuts? You are kidding, right?

With such fabulous "articles" as

-- "Children Taken Away from Christian Parents to Receive Forced Vaccinations"

-- "Dr. Rowen: Measles Spread by those Vaccinated"

-- "Healthy People Who Were Vaccinated for the Flu Continue to Die"

Please, go away.

Don't worry about it going too far; I swear, you won't fall off the edge of the earth.

(pssst... it's ROUND! But do not tell Rand Paul or Chris Christie!)

3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


I bet you take medical advise from an ex-playboy bunny too. As another famous bunny said, "what a maroon."

Like this comment
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 12, 2015 at 8:45 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Part of the problem is that the American public has been lied to and misled so often that many no longer believe anyone. And who can blame them?

The latest culprit is Brian Williams - admittedly not a public official, but supposedly one of America's most trusted people. And all political stripes are to blame. Whether it's "weapons of mass destruction" or "if you like your doctor" or "I guess those shovel-ready jobs weren't so shovel ready" or "North Korea can use the reactor to make nuclear weapons" or "this benefit won't cost taxpayers a thing" or "this is a temporary tax" or "I don't have the power to make laws" or whatever.

And you wonder why our institutions no longer have credibility?

1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

@pogo -- That the best that you can do? Comparing apples to oranges?

Try again.

Like this comment
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 13, 2015 at 1:43 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Stop the trolls. Read your name. Obey.

1 person likes this
Posted by Latest reports from NJ & KY
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2015 at 2:00 pm

"And you wonder why our institutions no longer have credibility?"

When did they have credibility for you? The 50's? The 60's?

Pogo - when did you last trust Big Medicine? The Feds? Do you trust the Coconuts news guys? Ever?

I trust 'em! I have seen the light! Why, when Brian Williams came on the TeeVee machine and showed me a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished", why, I believed!

1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Nice try, pogo. [Portion removed]

[Editor's Note: Getting a little too personal here, guys. Let's keep this important discussion civil, please.]

Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Slight change in topic, but I wish american's would get half as incensed about traffic deaths and gun fatalities as they do about vaccines!! Maybe we'd have some real change? Unlikely.

Why is it no one seems to care the 32,000 americans die each and every year in mostly preventable traffic accidents. That includes 1000+ children annually.

In California alone, 3000 people die every year in traffic accidents.

Gone. Dead. forget measles complications... these children would love to have a complication rather than a gravestone.

Like this comment
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 13, 2015 at 8:23 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Perspective - GREAT point.

And few of those 700 people who got the measles had any complications at all.

Yes, perspective.

2 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Perspective - the subject of the article is about vaccines. Please stick to the subject.

Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2015 at 5:29 pm

@Memories -- Your sentiments are in the right place. Unfortunately, the anti-vaxxers' own agenda is to drown out sentiments such as yours.

Guess the truth is unpalatable for them.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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