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

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

State Measles Cases Now at 73; Expect More

Five Disney staff members are among California's cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Five Disneyland staff members are among California’s cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Update, Monday, 1/26: The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said Monday that California now has 73 confirmed cases of measles.

Update, Friday, 1/23: The CDPH said Friday that 68 Californians have confirmed cases of measles.

Original post, Wed. 1/21:

State health officials report 59 confirmed cases of measles in nine counties. The patients range in age from 7 months to 70 years. The California Department of Public Health has linked 42 of these cases to people who visited Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure Park. Initially, cases were linked to people who visited the parks in mid-December, but there are more confirmed cases who visited the parks in January while infectious.

The outbreak has spread beyond California with seven cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. Mexico has also confirmed a case.

Vaccination status is known for 34 of the California patients. State officials say that 28 were not vaccinated at all, one was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated. (Six of the unvaccinated were babies, too young to be vaccinated.)

“Devastating Consequences”

“Measles is not a trivial illness,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. “It can be very serious with devastating consequences.”  Those consequences include pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 500 people a year died of the disease nationwide. In the current outbreak, 25 percent of people with measles have been hospitalized. Continue reading

Blue Shield, Sutter Impasse About More Than Money

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Contract breakdowns between insurance companies and health care providers are nothing new and often blow over after public posturing. But the current failure of Blue Shield and Sutter Health to come to terms on a new contract may be harder to resolve. That’s because the main issues appear to be about much more than money.

To the average patient, a request to arbitrate disputes doesn’t sound like a big deal. But this is different.
While the negotiations grind on, more than 250,000 people in individual and family plans are waiting to see what happens. The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter terminated on Dec. 31.

To be sure, money is a factor. Sutter says that Blue Shield is “demanding reductions in what they pay our organization … that would have a devastating impact,” said Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sutter. He says Sutter has asked for “less than a 1 percent increase.”

But Blue Shield claims Sutter is pushing the insurer to accept “new and unprecedented contractual provisions,” says Steven Shivinsky, spokesman for Blue Shield. Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Cases Now at 26

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The number of measles cases linked to having visited Disneyland parks in mid-December has climbed to 22 in California, according to state data. There are four more cases in other states — two in Utah and one each in Colorado and Washington.

While the incubation period for people who visited the parks between Dec. 17-20 ended on Jan. 10 — meaning that anyone who was at Disneyland in that time frame would have gotten sick by now — the Los Angeles Times is reporting that an unvaccinated, infected woman took two flights after she became ill.

The woman was in her 20s, the TImes reported, had visited Disneyland in December and became ill on Dec. 28.  Continue reading