Vaccines

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Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
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Sonoma County Has Highest Whooping Cough Rate in Statewide Epidemic

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

It’s been a little over a month since California declared a whooping cough epidemic, and according to the most recent data from the state, three neighboring Bay Area counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide: Sonoma, Napa and Marin.

Sonoma County’s rate of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is almost 120 cases per 100,000 people. Napa County’s rate is 90 per 100,000, and Marin’s rate is 65 per 100,000.

Sonoma County’s interim health officer, Karen Holbrook, says the number of cases reported each week has peaked and is now declining.

“It’s not what the state is experiencing as a whole, but we are coming down,” Holbrook says. “Will that hold indefinitely remains to be seen.”

Holbrook says California is seeing a whooping cough epidemic partly because the disease is cyclical, with cases spiking every three to five years. Continue reading

Whooping Cough Epidemic Continues — 1,100 New Cases in Last Two Weeks

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

In the two weeks since California health officials declared a whooping cough epidemic, the state has added 1,100 more cases, officials with the California Department of Public Health said Friday.

That brings the total number of cases to 4,558. A third infant died of the disease recently. The baby, from Sacramento County, had started showing symptoms at just 3 weeks of age. The baby was hospitalized for more than a year and then passed away.

Infants are at particular risk because they cannot be vaccinated until they are several weeks old. Generally, the recommendation is that babies receive the first dose of vaccine at 8 weeks, but in light of the epidemic, state health officials say babies can be vaccinated at 6 weeks.

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School Nurses on Front Lines to Raise Vaccine Rates

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Robyn Ettl, Grass Valley Unified school nurse, gives a vision test to second grader Chase Littlejohn at the Grass Valley Charter School. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

In her 33 years as a school nurse, Robyn Ettl has listened, sometimes quietly, sometimes not, to parents in rural Nevada County explain why their children don’t need vaccinations against contagious and potentially fatal diseases, including polio, diphtheria, measles and pertussis.

Parents must now meet with health provider before opting-out of vaccines for their children.

Now, with nearly a half a million children in California registering for kindergarten in the fall, school nurses like Ettl are more invested than ever in a delicate task: trying to change the minds of parents intent on opting out of school-entrance immunizations.

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, parents may no longer simply file a letter to opt-out of vaccines. Instead, they are required to consult with a health practitioner –- doctor, naturopath or credentialed school nurse –- before they’re allowed to obtain what’s known as a “personal-belief exemption” from their child’s required immunizations. Continue reading

California Measles Cases Jump Dramatically; 49 So Far in 2014

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

The state is reporting 49 confirmed cases of measles so far in 2014.

Last year at this time there were just four.

This is the first year since 2000, when officials declared measles eliminated in the U.S., that the number of cases in California climbed above 40. And it’s just April.

The California Department of Public Health says the highest number of cases – 21 – have been reported in Orange County. Other affected counties in Southern California include Los Angeles County with 10, Riverside with 5 and San Diego County with 4.

In Northern California the cases were spread out between Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo. Continue reading

Measles Cases on Rise Statewide

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

The California Department of Public Health says that California has 32 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. At this time last year, only three cases had been reported.

The cases are reported in both Northern and Southern California. Measles was declared to be eliminated in 2000 in the United States and CDPH says that many cases are linked to travel to parts of the world where measles is circulating. Of the cases reported so far this year, seven people had traveled to the Philippines where a large outbreak of measles is ongoing, two had been to India and one had traveled to Vietnam.

Health officials recommend that anyone planning travel outside of North or South America and has not been vaccinated to make sure they get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine before they go. Continue reading

Contra Costa County Maps Schools by Vaccination Rates: Find Yours

The red dots mark a school or childcare facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is 10 percent or more.

The red dots mark a school or child care facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is above 9.9 percent. The statewide average is 3 percent. (Contra Costa Health Department)

In response to the troubling number of children whose parents opt out of vaccines for them, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has published an interactive online map of vaccine rates for schools and licensed child-care facilities with at least 15 children at each site across the county.

“There’s not much wiggle room. We need about 90 percent of our community to be immune.”
The screen shot above shows the map. When you visit the site you can click on any of the dots, and a box appears to show you the name of the school, its address and rate of “personal belief exemptions.” While state law requires that every child be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, parents can opt out by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE), a signed statement that vaccines are against a parent’s beliefs.

Paul Leung, immunization program manager for Contra Costa Public Health, said the goal of producing the map was to increases awareness. “Many community members may not realize this dangerous, disturbing trend of parents choosing to skip vaccines for their children,” he said. “It not only puts these kids at greater risk of serious, dangerous diseases like measles and polio,” but it also puts others at risk, he said, including those who cannot be vaccinated, such as babies, and children or adults too sick to be vaccinated.  Continue reading

Whooping Cough Vaccine: Does Its Effectiveness Wear Off Faster?

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A new rise in whooping cough cases in California is raising questions among doctors about whether there are problems with the current vaccine. California public health data show a spike in whooping cough cases in 2013 compared to the year before, and last week officials confirmed the first death from the disease since the major outbreak of 2010: an infant in Riverside.

“The attempt at making vaccines safer has created a potential lapse in protection.” 

Whooping cough, or pertussis as it is referred to in medical circles, is cyclical in nature and tends to peak every three to five years. But doctors are now finding evidence that the new vaccine may start to wear off on a similar timeline, despite medical recommendations that allow for a span of eight years between booster shots.

“The efficacy of the new vaccine is really good, it works. It’s just that it wanes, and it wanes more quickly,” said Dr. Michael Witte, a pediatrician in Pt. Reyes, north of San Francisco.

The new acellular whooping cough vaccine was introduced in the 1990s. It has fewer side effects than the earlier whole-cell vaccine that had been in use since the 1940s. By 2001, the old vaccine was completely phased out. So while many adolescent kids have received boosters of the new vaccine, they would have gotten shots when they were babies that included the old vaccine. Continue reading

How California’s Law to Encourage Vaccination Could Backfire

Baby cries after receiving a vaccine. (Dan Hatton: Flickr)

(Dan Hatton/Flickr)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

California has a new law that’s supposed to get more of the state’s children vaccinated against measles, whooping cough and other infectious diseases.

But the law has taken a strange turn on its way to being put into action, one that may instead make it easier for parents to exempt their children from required vaccinations.

In recent years the number of parents who request so-called personal belief exemptions from vaccines has been rising. It’s gotten to the point that public health officials fear that there could be disease outbreaks in parts of California. Same goes for other states where exemption rates are high.

On Sept. 20, 2012, California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a bill aimed at boosting childhood immunization rates. His signing letter included these instructions: Continue reading

Vaccine Refusals Fueled California Whooping Cough Epidemic

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

Student leaves a vaccine clinic at a Los Angeles middle school after being immunized against whooping cough. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

When the whooping cough vaccine was invented in the 1940s, doctors thought they had finally licked the illness, which is especially dangerous for babies. But then it came roaring back.

In 2010, a whooping cough outbreak in California sickened 9,120 people, more than in any year since 1947. Ten infants died; babies are too young to be vaccinated.

Public health officials suspected that the increased numbers of parents who refused to vaccinate their children played a role, but they couldn’t be sure.

Vaccine refusal was indeed a factor, researchers now say. They compared the location and number of whooping cough, or pertussis, cases in that outbreak with the personal belief exemptions filed by parents who chose not to vaccinate for reasons other than a child’s health. (Some children with compromised immune systems aren’t able to be vaccinated.)

Pertussis is very contagious, spreading quickly through a community. So the researchers had to map not only the location of outbreak clusters, but also when they appeared. Continue reading