The vaccination debate

photo from Inferis’ photo stream at flickr.com/creativecommons

More California families are choosing not to have their kids vaccinated, a trend that is worrying public health officials, according to a Los Angeles Times report this weekend:

A rising number of California parents are choosing to send their children to kindergarten without routine vaccinations, putting hundreds of elementary schools in the state at risk for outbreaks of childhood diseases eradicated in the U.S. years ago.

Exemptions from vaccines — which allow children to enroll in public and private schools without state-mandated shots — have more than doubled since 1997, according to a Times analysis of state data obtained last week.

The rise in unvaccinated children appears to be driven by affluent parents choosing not to immunize. Many do so because they fear the shots could trigger autism, a concern widely discredited in medical research.

But with autism rates rising, some parents find that fear more worrisome than the chance that their child could contract diseases that, while now very rare in this country, can still be deadly.

The Times reported that just 2 percent of kindergartners aren’t vaccinated, but that they tend to be concentrated in certain schools — often private schools and public charter schools in more affluent areas.

Is this an issue at your school? Where do you stand?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • concerned parent

    We vaccinate to protect not just our children, but those around them. If everyone is vaccinated, there is nowhere for the viruses/diseases to hide. Recent outbreaks in the Sierra Foothills of horrible, yet preventable (with vaccines) diseases, scares us in a big way! We have carefully evaluated the risks and strongly feel that it’s a lot riskier to not vaccinate, than to vaccinate.

  • Nextset

    If the school has enrollment standards those without required vaccinations don’t walk through the door. So there is never a problem except for problem families who might have to homeschool their kids or send them to private schools with different standards.

    As far as who the problem families are – maybe they are eccentrics, maybe they are non-conformists, I haven’t seen the stats on who they are. This really shouldn’t be a problem for the public schools as long as the schools are capable of maintaining any kind of minimum standards.

    What to tell these problem families is that they don’t get to decide or pick and choose what minimum standards they comply with. If there are private or charter schools that are collecting pools of unvaccinated kids that’s a problem for the local health officer to fix, not the public school.

    On the other hand, are their religious or some other such exceptions where families can refuse to comply with vaccination rules and force enrollment of their kids anyway?

    A similar problem are families who will not get medical/dental care for the kid. Public schools are reluctant to call the police and they shouldn’t be. I always advise calling in local Police rather than CPS although the written child abuse/neglect reports should be sent to both agencies. CPS is typically pretty worthless and even more so when the kids involved are minorities. It takes a Peace Officer to deal with crazy/criminal/druggie parents, not a social worker.

  • Sara

    On the back of the immunization record the parent can sign where it says vaccinations are contrary to personal beliefs. Most of the state have them. I think that their kids shouldn’t be let into public school without the vaccinations. As you said, let them be home schooled. I have done a lot of reading on the autism thing and no one, except some nutty parents, thinks the two have anything to do with one another. These parents don’t understand that their kid could die from measles or that if their pregnant daughter contacts rubella her baby will have congenital defects, something that shouldn’t happen in this day and age.

  • John

    Perhaps thought should be given to opening ‘disease
    magnet schools’ for non-vaccinated kids? Given the mollusk level thinking(?) by some parents on this issue, and the genetic connection to their children perhaps ‘a disease magnet school’ could double as a
    special learning needs facility?

    Question: Why did the chicken cross the busy freeway?

    Answer: Because s/he was afraid s/he’d get hit by an airplane.

    I wonder what could have inspired that joke?

  • http://www.sanleandrobytes.com Mike Katz-Lacabe

    This hasn’t been an issue at our schools and I hope it doesn’t become one. As you correctly note, there is no link between autism and the use of thimerosal (a vaccine preservative that contains mercury). Even so, most vaccines for children these days don’t contain thimerosal – with the exception of flu vaccines.

    Parents who don’t vaccinate their children fail to properly assess the risks of vaccinating versus not vaccinating. This is similar to people who think flying on large commercial planes is more dangerous than driving.

    The question for school and public health officials is: How do we ensure that parents have the proper information to make informed decisions about vaccinations?

  • Nextset

    Mike: The problem I see is the rest of us at the mercy of the judgment of every flake parent. I support putting resource material on the school’s website – I’m not sure the schools need to be handing out tracts on the glory of vaccination in 35 languages.

    The important thing is to make sure that kids not in compliance don’t set foot inside the school campus.

    And this also touches on TB control issues. TB can kill a toddler in a relatively short time from exposure to active TB to death. Adults with normal immune systems can merely go latent for a lifetime with only 10% coming down with active TB.

    Before babies can get into daycare TB screening is required (so I am informed) of the adults the child lives with. If you have a family who doesn’t feel like complying with TB screening combined with a daycare/preschool program who is lax on TB control you can have real trouble. To me TB is much more real and deadly than Whooping Cough. Since it rides the HIV epidemic and comes in commonly from Mexico, the Phillipines and India it is a real issue in the minority community.

    Just wait until you bump into a family that refuses to comply with TB treatment and control. They are out there. Oakland had a significant TB outbreak years ago that required the State TB Controllers to come in and take over the local program. Orange County had an outbreak of drug-resistant TB in a high school with (so I was informed at a seminar) 10 kids infected, at least one of which went to a lung removal. In both cases we are talking about pediatratic outbreaks which by definition involve schools as the vector.

    And some people are lots more equal than others in these cases. You are not likely to see the Anna Head/Pebble Beach crowd getting hit with this.

    Urban Public Schools need the nurses. Or a Kaiser Clinic in residence.