Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing stories and editing them for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

Beyond Abolishing the ‘Personal Belief Exemption’ To Raise Vaccination Rates

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On Wednesday in Sacramento, a MoveOn.org member is expected to deliver a petition with 21,000 signatures calling on the state’s government to abolish the personal belief exemption.

“Focusing on the parental-choice issue risks provoking a counter-productive backlash.”

She will be holding a press conference with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who announced a bill earlier this month to do just that. When he made the announcement, Pan repeatedly spoke of wanting to increase vaccination rates.

It sounds so good: Just wipe out the option to refuse vaccines, and vaccination rates will improve.

But is abolishing the personal belief exemption — a choice that permits parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated — the best way to accomplish that goal? Continue reading

Covered California Grants Special Enrollment Through April

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Covered California will offer a special extension to buy health insurance through the marketplace for people who say they weren’t aware they would face a tax penalty for being uninsured.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee announced the extension Friday. He said the special enrollment will start on Monday and run through April 30. People must attest to the fact that they were not aware of the penalty, which they can do when they apply on the Covered California website.

Lee said as many as 600,000 people may face a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. While the extension does not exempt people from paying the 2014 tax penalty, it would help them avoid bigger penalties in 2015. Continue reading

Covered California: You Still Have A Few Days to Sign Up

Screenshot of Covered California's website.

Screenshot of Covered California’s website.

Nearly 474,000 people signed up for health insurance on Covered California, the state’s marketplace, by the deadline Sunday night, officials announced today. But if you didn’t sign up, you still have a chance.

As Covered California has done in the past, the agency is allowing a few extra days for those who have started the application process, but not yet finished. That extra time was announced last week.

On Tuesday, executive director Peter Lee added a couple more days to the deadline. Now people have until this Sunday to finish applications. The change aligns Covered California with a federal extension announced over the weekend. Continue reading

Parents Relieved as Son Gets First Post-Leukemia Vaccines

Rhett Krawitt, of Corte Madera, received the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine on Friday. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Rhett Krawitt, of Corte Madera, received the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine on Friday at the Prima Medical Group in Greenbrae. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

It’s been a big week for 7-year-old Rhett Krawitt.

On Tuesday, he stood on a folding chair at the podium to address his southern Marin school district’s board members and urged them to adopt a resolution in favor of ending the vaccine “personal belief exemption” in California. Television news crews lined one side of the auditorium. Rhett is recovering from cancer, and he’s become the face of the importance of widespread vaccination.

Because Rhett is recovering from years of chemotherapy, he’s been unable to be vaccinated. His immune system wasn’t strong enough.

Until now. Continue reading

Covered California Considering Enrollment ‘Contingency Plans’ Tied to Tax Deadline

Screenshot from the Covered California website.

Screenshot from the Covered California website.

Covered California open enrollment ends this Sunday. Sort of.

Special enrollment for people who did not know about the tax penalty?    

For starters, the agency announced Thursday that people who start an application by this Sunday get until next Friday, Feb. 20, to finish it. That’s similar to steps that Covered California has taken in the past. 

But advocates have long been frustrated with the timing of open enrollment. That’s because of how penalties for lacking insurance are assessed — on your taxes. The tax deadline is not for another two months, April 15. Continue reading

Marin School District Considers Endorsing Ban of Vaccine ‘Personal Belief Exemption’

Rhett Krawitt with his oncologist, Dr. Rob Goldsby, taken Monday at an appointment at UCSF. (Courtesy: Carl Krawitt)

Rhett Krawitt with his oncologist, Dr. Rob Goldsby, taken Monday at an appointment at UCSF. (Courtesy: the Krawitt family)

Update Feb. 10, 10:00pm: The board of the Reed Union School District voted 4-1 to “encourage the state of California” to eliminate the personal belief exemption.

Original post:

As first reported on State of Health, the face of the vaccine debate in southern Marin’s small Reed Union School District is Rhett Krawitt. He’s a first grader at Reed Elementary in Tiburon. Rhett was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 2 and went through three years of chemotherapy.

Rhett is in remission now, but cannot yet be vaccinated, for medical reasons. A small percentage of school children statewide — 0.19 percent — have such medical exemptions. They depend on everyone around them being vaccinated to protect them from disease. This community protection is called herd immunity.

But Marin County has a much higher rate of “personal belief exemptions” — a way for parents to lawfully refuse vaccines on behalf of their children.

In large part because of prodding from Rhett’s parents, the district’s board at its regular meeting tonight will consider whether to formally endorse a new bill that would abolish the personal belief exemption in California. Continue reading

Measles Update — Marin Cases; State Lawmaker to Introduce Vaccine Bill

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Two unvaccinated Marin children have been confirmed to have measles, county health officials announced Thursday night in an advisory sent to all Marin County clinicians.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin Health Officer, told the Marin Independent Journal that the two children were members of the same family and that they had become infected outside the county. The children are of school age, Willis added, but no other unvaccinated children would be barred from attending school.

More from the Independent-Journal:

“These were two children who were out of school well before and throughout any infectious period,” Willis said. “The infectious period for measles is usually around eight days.”
Continue reading

Suspected Ebola Patient in Sacramento Tested Negative

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

Update, Fri. January 30:

The California Department of Public Health says that the patient with suspected Ebola infection has tested negative for the virus. CDPH reminds everyone that there are no confirmed Ebola cases in California “and no threat to the general public.”

Original story:

A patient suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento Thursday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

We have no other details about the patient at this time — except that the patient was transferred from Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento. All five UC medical centers were designated Ebola treatment centers by the California Department of Public Health last October.

Here’s the full statement from UC Davis Medical Center: Continue reading

Not Vaccinated? ‘Stay Home from School,’ Says Marin Dad of Leukemia Patient

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the last 4½ years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year, he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission.

Do you want to help the family of a child with cancer? Make sure your own children are vaccinated, doctor says.
Now, there’s a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.

Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — or what’s known as herd immunity.

But Rhett lives in Marin, 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 Marin’s kindergarteners have a PBE which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. Continue reading

Answers to Five Common Measles Questions

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Amanda Stupi

An outbreak of measles and a new report that identified clusters of vaccine refusals in Northern California have become this week’s hot topics. As such, KQED’s daily talk show Forum devoted an hour to the outbreak, and opened up the phones to listeners’ questions. The result: the sharing of some very good information. Here are answers to five common questions:

1. Can people who have been vaccinated against the measles still get it? 

Of the confirmed measles cases in California, at least five are people who were fully vaccinated. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case.

“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. The measles vaccine comes close — it protects 99 out of 100 people, but that’s “one percent of a lot of people,” she said. Continue reading