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
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
Young girl with partial paralysis, caused by polio. (Courtesy Boston Children’s Hospital)
Take a hard look at the picture. These are images we don’t see in this country at all anymore. But until the polio vaccine came along in 1955, children and adults paralyzed from polio were fairly commonplace. (FDR, anyone?) Today, vaccines are now a victim of their own success. Because they’ve so successfully wiped out devastating childhood illnesses, people seem not to fear those illnesses anymore. Now we have parents who decide not to have their children vaccinated.
As KQED News has reported this week, the number of parents in Marin County opting out of vaccines for their children is climbing. Last year, 7.8 percent of Marin parents opted out, 1 percentage point higher than the previous year. At present, California has one of the most lenient laws in the country to allow parents to decline vaccinating their kids: the “personal belief exemption.” It’s a short statement that says vaccinations are against a parent’s beliefs. (A new law amends this exemption somewhat; more on that below.)
On Thursday, KQED’s Forum took up the question of vaccines, and it was clear that many people remain confused on some key points.
1. What is herd immunity? Continue reading
Each green circle depicts a whooping cough outbreak this year. (Map: Council on Foreign Relations)
As the map illustrates, many areas in the country are in the grip of whooping cough outbreaks, everywhere but California. More on California in a minute. Let’s first take a look at a new(ish) vaccine and see how its limitations might be contributing to the outbreaks.
In the 1990s, the U.S. and other developed countries switched from one kind of vaccine against whooping cough (also called pertussis) to another. The older vaccine was very effective but there were concerns about a rare side effect, a neurological disorder, which may (or may not) have been connected to the vaccine. More commonly, the vaccine caused the same minor side effects that we traditionally associate with shots: redness, soreness at the injection site, etc. Except that with the old pertussis vaccine, the side effects occurred more frequently.
In her wired.com blog noted science reporter Maryn McKenna recaps the research and wonders if there could have been an unexpected trade-off with this new vaccine — that it is less effective and therefore contributing to the outbreaks we’re seeing now. From McKenna’s blog Superbug: Continue reading
Pharmacist administers whooping cough vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
You know public health is working when nothing bad happens. Last year, for the first time in 20 years, California had no deaths from whooping cough, a highly contagious illness also called pertussis.
The California Department of Public Health credits a statewide vaccination effort which followed a 2010 outbreak when 9,000 Californians were diagnosed and nine infants died. In 2011, in addition to no deaths, the number of cases of the illness dropped to 3,000.
As the Los Angeles Times reports: Continue reading
There’s news today about three different vaccines–HPV for boys, varicella vaccine (against chickenpox) and flu vaccines.
The common thread? Public health officials repeat the recommendations to get them.
First, a study in today’s Pediatrics shows why the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was so lethal in previously healthy children. If those children were simultaneously carrying MRSA, a common staph infection, they were eight times more likely to die. The New York Times summarizes the story.
The authors conclude the study with this plea, ”New therapies for treating severe influenza and new treatment strategies for MRSA pneumonia complicating influenza are urgently needed for children.”