In The News – California Measles Outbreak

Nagourney, A. Goodnough, A. (21 Jan 2015) Measles Cases Linked to Disneyland Rise, and Debate over Vaccination Intensifies. New York Times.

Carroll, R. (17 Jan 2015) Too rich to get sick? Disneyland measles outbreak reflects anti-vaccination trend. The Guardian.

The New York Times article reports that as of January 21, California health officials had identified 59 cases of measles this winter; 42 of these cases are linked to an outbreak that began with a Disneyland employee in December. The California Center for Infectious disease is asking Californians who are unvaccinated to get the vaccine and some unvaccinated students have been sent home from Orange County schools. The article quotes pediatric infectious disease specialists attributing this outbreak to the efforts of anti-vaccination campaigns. Although the state averages a vaccination exemption rate (rate of kindergarteners who do not receive vaccination) of only 3.1%, this varies a lot and some areas have exemption rates greater than 10%. According to this article, “the vaccination rate needed to be above 95% in all communities to prevent outbreaks.”  A representative from the National Vaccine Information Center is quoted as saying “it’s premature to blame…the unvaccinated.”

The earlier Guardian article cites a Los Angeles Times study from 2014 which found that all of the 150 schools in California with vaccine exemption rates of 8% or greater were in in areas with high incomes; poorer school districts tended to have lower exemption rates. The author mentions some of the fears parents have about giving their children vaccines which contributes to a decreased rate of vaccination. He links the efforts of vaccine opponents such as Orange County pediatrician Bob Sears (author of a 2007 book about vaccine choices), the National Vaccine Information Center, and actress Jenny McCarthy to the rise in parents choosing not to have their children vaccinated despite the lack of scientific evidence that these vaccines cause harm.

In reading these articles I was initially kind of surprised to learn about the trend toward lower rates of vaccination in higher income communities. On the face of it, it goes against standard assumptions about access to health care and trust of the health care system. However, many of the sources of information which discredit the value of vaccination are more likely to reach a more affluent, more literate audience. I would be curious to know which communities those affected by this measles outbreak come from. Has there been a corresponding shift in which groups are more likely to contract vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses like measles?

The National Vaccine Information Center website mission statement states: “The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending the informed consent ethic in medicine. As an independent clearinghouse for information on diseases and vaccines, NVIC does not advocate for or against the use of vaccines. We support the availability of all preventive health care options, including vaccines, and the right of consumers to make educated, voluntary health care choices.”  Despite their claim of not advocating against vaccines, a lot of the language and information on the site seems to portray vaccinations negatively with an emphasis on trying to reform vaccination law and policy.


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