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Editorial: We all have a stake in healthy vaccination rate
The Sacramento Bee

In San Diego in 2008, a 7-year-old boy who had not been immunized contracted measles on a trip to Switzerland and spread it to his unvaccinated siblings and then his schoolmates.

Parents of many of those children had invoked a loosely written California law that permitted them to decline to have their children immunized based on their personal beliefs. As a result, the public health authorities found that 11 additional people got measles, including two infants.One had to be hospitalized.

California’s “personal belief” law must be tightened.

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is a pediatrician who clearly understands the science behind vaccinations, and wisdom of communicating facts to parents.

He has introduced Assembly Bill 2109, a straightforward measure that would require physicians or other qualified health care specialists to inform parents of the benefits and risks of vaccines, and to sign forms attesting that they’ve imparted the information. Parents who still balk at having their child immunized would need to sign forms stating that they’ve been told of the rewards and risks.

Parents who fear vaccines are trying to do what they think is right. Many have read scare stories and accepted as truth false information from questionable sources. Pan said that among the most difficult fears to confront is that of autism.

There is no link between vaccinations and autism, but fears persist. As the state Department of Public Health points out, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and World Health Organization all agree that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.

Of course, vaccines have risk. But the benefits are not readily apparent because vaccines have been so successful. Polio is a rarity, thanks to vaccines. Measles is far less common that it was 45 years ago.

Health authorities blame the 2010 pertussis epidemic in which 10 California babies died in part on under-immunization. The state has since expanded the vaccination requirement. In 2011, there were no recorded deaths attributed to pertussis, also known as whooping cough, something that had not happened since 1991.

As it is, about 2 percent of parents opt out of having their children vaccinated. The number is rising, and is much higher at some schools.

Health authorities become alarmed when vaccination rates fall below 85 to 90 percent. That puts all people at risk, particularly those individuals who for medical reasons cannot be immunized.

Of all 58 California counties, Nevada County had the highest rate of parents of entering kindergartners claiming a personal belief exemption in 2010, says the state Department of Public Health. More than 17 percent of entering kindergartners in 2010 had not been vaccinated.

In Sacramento County, 3.2 percent of entering kindergartners arrived without vaccinations in 2010 because of the parents’ beliefs. In 2010, eight Sacramento County schools had opt-out rates of 20 percent or greater, all of them private or charter.

California health officials have shown an ability to carry out effective public health campaigns. Smoking is the best example. Tobacco use has fallen dramatically since California embarked on its anti-smoking effort. The whooping cough campaign is another example. By speaking directly and honestly to parents, physicians can have huge impact.

Pan’s measure is intended to provide accurate information, and ensure that parents realize that they place their child and other parents’ children at risk by failing to get their children immunized. Pan’s bill deserves bipartisan support and rapid approval.

The Bee’s past stands

An important issue is that California has a very loose “personal belief exemption,” an opt-out for parents that need not be based on religion or medical necessity. Legislators ought to revisit that law. … The bottom line: Kids need to get their vaccinations to protect us all.

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