Disneyland. A magical place of princesses, pirates and cartoon characters. The quintessential American childhood experience, unless you bring home a little some more than expected—the measles!
During the first week of January 2015, California went on high alert when seven cases of measles in California and two in Utah were traced back to a common factor: a visit to Disneyland within a five-day period in December 2014. The L.A Times reported that even prior to that outbreak, 2014 was shaping up to be the worst outbreak of measles in two decades and the highest rate of pertussis since 1958.
Just two days following the California governor passing a vaccine bill to eliminate religious or personal belief exemptions, the United States saw its first death in 12 years due to measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that there have been 176 confirmed cases of the measles in the United States this year, 117 of those linked to the Disney outbreak.
Although many people support California’s new vaccine bill, some Hollywood stars are publically voicing their anti-vaccine bill stance. Jim Carrey is among those celebrities sharing his dissent via Twitter. At one time, Carrey was linked with fellow vaccine opponent Jenny McCarthy, known for her public comments linking her son’s autism to vaccinations.
With all the clamor from famous voices, it is little wonder why vaccine exemptions for school age children has risen. Christopher Ingraham, in an article for the Washington Post noted that vaccine exemptions in California tend to be clustered and that these clusters tend to be in wealthy areas. Detailed maps from the California Department of Public Health graphically represent how anti-vaccine sentiment has spread over the past decade. According to reports, in 2000 on average, only .77 percent of kindergartners in California had a personal belief exemption (PBE) compared with 3.15 percent in 2013; an increase of nearly four times. Students attending private school in California are even more likely to have an exemption, with an estimate of some 75 percent of kindergartners with a PBE. There was a small decrease (3.2 to 2.5) in the number of recorded PBE’s at schools after California schools required that a health care professional be consulted before a PBE be filed.
Although California ranks 39th in the nation with an overall vaccination rate of 65.3 percent, perhaps this bill to ban personal belief and religious exemptions for non-vaccination will help increase the vaccination rate in the state. The measles vaccine has an 83 to 94 percent vaccination success rate—clearly evidenced in the years without a measles death. Contrast that with the WHO’s numbers that some 145,700 deaths were reported in 2013 due to the measles. That number may seem like a lot, but when you consider that the estimated number of deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2013 due to measles is 15.6 million, it suggests that vaccinations save lives and that vaccinations are a simple public health effort that pays large dividends.