Tick. Tick. Tick. It’s just a matter of time until a case of the measles is reported in Kern County, or an infected visitor exposes others to the highly contagious disease.
More needs to be done – by the state and by all of us – to keep this highly contagious disease in check.
Just this week, moviegoers attending a midnight showing of the newly released “Avengers: Endgame” in an Orange County theater were exposed. It followed outbreaks at two Southern California universities.
Measles cases in the U.S. have surpassed 700 this year – the highest level in the U.S. since the disease was declared “eliminated” in 2000. As of May 1, there were 40 confirmed cases in California alone. Likely by the time you read this, there will be more.
The measles is not some benign “kid disease.” Before the measles vaccine was widely distributed, the disease hospitalized around 48,000 people and killed about 400 to 500 in the U.S. every year. Worldwide, about 110,000 people died of measles in 2017.
Most deaths are caused by complications that include blindness; encephalitis, which is an infection that causes brain swelling; severe diarrhea; dehydration; ear infections; and respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.
Particularly vulnerable to the disease are infants under 12 months old, who are not vaccinated; people with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy; and unvaccinated pregnant women.
Bogus stories fanned by friends, as well as evil Internet trolls, some linked to Russia, claim vaccines harm children. They have convinced some parents not to vaccinate their children. This misinformation is being blamed for reducing vaccination rates in the U.S. and enabling the current outbreak.
For a variety of reasons, some people cannot be vaccinated. But if vaccination rates remain above 95 percent, a “herd protection” exists that blocks outbreaks. As more parents refuse to vaccinate their children, that protection disappears.
All 50 states require children to be vaccinated before being admitted to public schools, and California, Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated religious and “personal” exemptions.
Led by state Sen. Richard Pan, a physician and Democrat from Sacramento, the state Legislature took that action in 2015 following a Disneyland-linked measles outbreak.
The ban resulted in the present spike of “medical exemptions,” with some unethical doctors signing off on fake exemptions for a price. Pan now proposes to follow the lead of West Virginia, which requires state health officials to approve medical exemptions.
In the face of angry opposition from some parents, Pan’s SB 276 overwhelmingly passed the Senate Health Committee last month. It now must be approved by the Senate and Assembly before it becomes law.
Pan’s bill is a reasonable strategy to help protect Californians from a once-eliminated, deadly disease that has been resurrected by fear and misinformation.
It will require doctors’ recommendations to be approved by state health officials. A database of exemptions and recommending doctors will be created. Pan’s bill is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, and Vaccinate California.
Under SB 276, physicians will submit information to the California Department of Public Health, including the physician’s name and license number and the reason for the exemption. State health officials will ensure the exemptions meet the Center for Disease Control’s vaccination standards. The physician also must certify that they have examined the patient in person.
But combating measles is not a job left only to the state. Parents must vaccinate their children. Kern County schools, including Cal State Bakersfield, are recommending students, faculty and staff check their immunization records and receive all the appropriate vaccinations.
Parents should ask other parents about their children’s vaccinations. A “personal” decision made by one parent can have tragic consequences for others – including infants too young to be vaccinated, people with legitimate medical conditions.