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Once A Vaccine Skeptic, This Mom Changed Her Mind

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left). (Courtesy of Juniper Russo)

Juniper Russo walks her dogs with her daughter Vivian (left).
(Courtesy of Juniper Russo)

By Jon Hamilton, NPR

The ongoing measles outbreak linked to Disneyland has led to some harsh comments about parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. But Juniper Russo, a writer in Chattanooga, Tenn., says she understands those parents because she used to be one of them.

“I know what it’s like to be scared and just want to protect your children, and make the wrong decisions,” Russo says.

When her daughter Vivian was born, “I was really adamant that she not get vaccines,” Russo says. “I thought that she was going to be safe without them and they would unnecessarily introduce chemicals into her body that could hurt her.”

That’s a view shared by many parents who choose not to vaccinate. And in Russo’s case, it was reinforced by parents she met online. Continue reading

Not Just Un-Vaccinated; Under-Vaccination Also a Problem Statewide

Nursing student administers flu shot. (queensu/Flickr)

(queensu/Flickr)

By Lauren M. Whaley, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Kids without all their vaccinations are falling through the cracks at schools across California.

Over 80 percent of kindergarteners at some Oakland schools entered this year without all of their state-required vaccinations. At some Los Angeles Unified schools, more than 90 percent are under-vaccinated, meaning only 10 percent of kids — or far fewer — are fully up to date on their immunizations.

It seems everyone has been focused on parents who opt-out of vaccinations for their kindergarteners. But, there are thousands of under-vaccinated students who may also be walking school halls for months, maybe even the whole school year, without all their shots. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Drops — First Time Since 1998; Look Up Your Calif. School

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Under California law, all kindergarteners must be vaccinated against a range of communicable diseases before they can start school. But California also permits parents to opt-out of vaccines on behalf of their children. The opt-out rate doubled over a seven year period ending last school year. But now, for the first time since 1998, the opt-out rate has declined, from 3.15 percent statewide to 2.5 percent.

A new state law appears to be the driver. Under AB 2109, parents who wish to opt out of vaccines must file a personal belief exemption or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal belief.

lookupThis school year, for the first time, parents must first meet with a health provider who explains the risks and benefits of both vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. Until the current school year, parents simply had to sign the statement without any consultation.

State senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) sponsored the bill and is pretty happy about the decline. He believes that requiring the meeting with a health care provider clears up confusion some parents have about vaccines. 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

Amnio Alternative: Blood Test Gives Women New Option for Prenatal Screening

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It's just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It’s just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

By Nell Greenfield-Boyce, NPR

When Amy Seitz got pregnant with her second child last year, she knew that being 35 years old meant there was an increased chance of chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. She wanted to be screened, and she knew just what kind of screening she wanted — a test that’s so new, some women and doctors don’t quite realize what they’ve signed up for.

This kind of test , called cell free fetal DNA testing, uses a simple blood sample from an expectant mother to analyze bits of fetal DNA that have leaked into her bloodstream. It’s only been on the market since October 2011 and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA does not regulate this type of genetic testing service. Several companies now offer the test, including Sequenom and Illumina. Insurance coverage varies, and doctors often only offer this testing to women at higher risk because of things like advanced maternal age.

“I think that I initially heard about it through family and friends,” says Seitz. “They had had the option of it given to them by their doctors.” 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

This Year’s Flu Shot Less-Than-Perfect, But Get It Anyway

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

By Rob Stein, NPR

As expected, this year’s flu vaccine looks like it’s pretty much of a dud.

The vaccine only appears to cut the chances that someone will end up sick with the flu by 23 percent, according to the first estimate of the vaccine’s effectiveness by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC had predicted this year’s vaccine wouldn’t work very well because the main strain of the flu virus that’s circulating this year, known as an H3N2 virus, mutated slightly after the vaccine was created. That enables the virus to evade the immune system response created by getting vaccinated. 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