Measles Outbreak Inspires Vaccination Policy Reform in California

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                                        Image courtesy of Damian Dovarganes – AP

Since the beginning of the current measles outbreak in California in December 2014, a total of 131 measles cases have been reported among the state’s residents. These measles cases are reported to account for 77% of the total number of cases confirmed nationwide so far this year – which was pushed to 170 this past week. From those confirmed measles cases in California, a staggering 55 were reported to be unvaccinated for the disease – a figure that is likely higher as this number was derived from confirmed measles cases for which vaccination documentation was available.

The current outbreak has sparked a debate within California about the continued allowance of the state’s personal belief exemption for vaccinations – whereby parents or guardians are currently allowed to opt out of the statewide requirement for children to be vaccinated prior to enrollment in school based on their personal (religious or philosophical) beliefs. The ability for individuals to obtain a personal belief exemption for vaccinations became more restrictive in 2012, and again in 2014. The current process for obtaining an exemption can be seen in the video below.

Still, the increasingly restrictive measures to obtain a personal belief exemption are not enough, as exemplified by the estimated 13,000 kindergarten children in California that are currently unvaccinated. Thankfully, lawmakers have taken notice and action to combat this issue. In a bid to increase the statewide vaccination rate and reduce chances of future vaccine preventable disease outbreaks – a bill was introduced last month that would eliminate the personal belief exemption for vaccinations entirely.

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3 Responses to “Measles Outbreak Inspires Vaccination Policy Reform in California”

  1. ruigutierrez Says:

    This is a great post, really informative and concise. I definitely agree that the exemptions have to be restricted, the increase in susceptible children is a risk for the ones that cannot vaccinate due to medical condition. It has been proven time and again the benefits of vaccination outweight any risks they might have, specially measles. Thank you for sharing

  2. alinks1323 Says:

    I completely agree with the concept of restricting exemptions. I do believe that some vaccines should be mandatory, if the risk of the disease is high enough. That is, there are some situations in which public health can take precedence over individual objection (if the risk is high enough). In bringing this about, I think it’s a good idea to consider both the policies themselves, and what drives people to object to vaccinations (including both religious objections and social perceptions). There is ample evidence about a variety of objections to vaccinations. For example, factors like beliefs in immunology (or whether it is better for individuals or populations to achieve immunity through natural means), beliefs about the severity or susceptibility of a particular health outcome, personal experience or social marketing of vaccines, and beliefs about the industry itself (or vaccinations as a “for-profit enterprise”) are often referenced in the literature. These perceptions regarding vaccinations can originate both in the general public, and in medical practitioners. I think that in considering the implementation of policies, it is also important to think about the social context in which those policies would be implemented, and the overall question of why people wouldn’t want to vaccinate their children.

  3. Sara G. Says:

    As many of the students here at JHSPH, I completely agree with restricting exemptions. I also think it is important that they are barred from attending school if they are sick to prevent disease transmission to others. The statistic of 13,000 children without vaccinations starting kindergarten is absolutely staggering. Perhaps the California Health Department should explore more of why people are not vaccinating their children from a social and behavioral basis. As more and more laws are passed tightening requirements for vaccination exemptions, more people will continue to search for loopholes. There needs to be more education on how vaccines work and why they are so important. People need to have certain vaccines to visit certain countries (like yellow fever) and have to present a yellow card on arrival, or else be denied entry. This bill must be enforced and applied universally and maybe we need to practice carrying yellow cards as well to centralize vaccinations and allow people access to their records at all times.

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