California joined Mississippi and West Virginia with the passing of Senate Bill 277 last July (2016). This bill did away with religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions, allowing only medical exemptions accepted in the school system. The bill was sparked by the 2014, measles outbreak in Disneyland that affected 159 people in the US and dozens in Mexico and Canada.
Up until last July vaccine exemption numbers had been climbing in California marked by a rise in personal belief exemptions filed by California parents. Every year there had been a slightly larger number of children entering the school system without having gotten their vaccines.
Also included in the bill is the mandatory vaccination of all children entering school. The new legislation applies only to children entering a few checkpoints in any upcoming school year: day care, kindergarten, and seventh grade. That means that an unvaccinated child who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2015 will continue to go without vaccination until the next check point–seventh grade. That’s a long time left unprotected.
The passing of Senate Bill 277 is being hailed by it’s supporters as a victory for public health, however parents of the unvaccinated are claiming this is a violation of their parental rights. Many have chosen to move out of the stater or have removed their children from the school system. Therefore, California is still seeing high numbers of unvaccinated pockets of people and thus, unprotected communities. When these unprotected communities see disease it quickly spreads because there are not enough vaccinated people to keep it contained.
So Measles is back. And this time it’s in Los Angeles.
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses in the world. Infected people develop a rash that can take weeks to show up, but they can transmit the virus to others before that. If an infected person walks into a room, the virus can stay there for two hours after the person leaves. It’s dangerous — 15 people die every hour worldwide from measles, according to the World Health Organization.
This outbreak has already affected 20 people (as of January 2017), prompting a search for others that have been exposed. At least 15 of the 18 L.A. county patients either knew one another or had a clear social connection. None of the 18 could provide proof of vaccination.
Most of the current infected patients live in western areas of the county, including L.A.’s Westside, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the San Fernando Valley. Santa Barbara and Ventura counties each reported one case as well.
Right now all the county health workers can do is try to stop the spread of the measles and contain people who might have been exposed. The outbreak was contained to a group of people who shared a social circle, which made it easier to track down who might have come into contact with the virus. Health officials have identified more than 2,000 people who may have come into contact with a measles patient, and discovered that about 10% of them hadn’t been vaccinated against the disease. Half of those who weren’t protected were given a vaccination or other treatment to prevent them from getting measles.
But people outside that circle aren’t safe. Measles is very contagious. This outbreak shows how greatly the immunity to the measles has eroded.
Children are supposed to receive two vaccines to protect against measles before they start kindergarten. With the new law most children will be vaccinated upon entering the school system. But the bigger concern as of now is all of the Californians who’ve already finished their schooling and never received immunizations. Young adults won’t encounter another vaccination checkpoint once they leave high school.
People who have not had vaccinations or who have not been caught up on their vaccinations are the sources of the outbreaks. Of the 18 cases in L.A. County, the biggest share were people in their 20s, though ages ranged from young children to older adults.
Some parents don’t vaccinate their kids because they believe they’ll be protected by herd immunity (the idea that if most people are protected than the non vaccinated will be protected). But measles is so contagious that between 96% and 99% of people need to be immunized to establish herd immunity.
Hopefully the new law will improve herd immunity and lower the incidence of disease. Six months since Senate Bill 277 took effect they are already seeing a significant rise in vaccinated children, and as vaccination rates rise so does the protection of the community. This seems to be working.
Or is it?