By Jim Welte
An article in Slate magazine earlier this month asked whether parents who decline to immunize their children should be sued or charged with a crime when their decision leads to an outbreak of illness.
The piece centered around a 2008 San Diego incident where an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy caught measles in Switzerland and then passed the virus on to 11 other unvaccinated kids.
The article comes as Marin County’s rate of immunizations continues to drop, with only 82 percent of school-aged children immunized, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. The numbers are especially low in Corte Madera and Larkspur. Novato is an exception, with 95 percent of school-age children immunized.
In California, kindergartners need five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), four polio, three hepatitis B, two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and one varicella (chickenpox) shot. But the state is one of 18 where parents may still enroll students who have not been immunized if they claim an exemption due to personal beliefs.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last fall a bill requiring parents who exclude their children from immunization requirements to submit a signed statement that they received information about risks and benefits of vaccines. In doing so, however, Brown directed the state Department of Health to provide a way for people whose religious beliefs preclude vaccinations from having to seek a health care practitioner's signature.
A study by the California Department of Public Health in 2010 found that 80 percent of parents who don't immunize their kids do so because they believe the vaccines pose a health risk.
Sharayn Forkel, the county's immunization coordinator, told the Marin Independent Journal that many parents are still concerned that vaccines will cause autism despite a mountain of medical evidence refuting the idea. One of the most vocal critics of vaccines, former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, is set to become a co-host of the morning TV talk show The View next month. McCarthy has repeatedly claimed that vaccines played a major role in giving her son autism.
"As one of our pediatricians says to his patients who choose to refuse vaccines, 'I'll work with you on this; but you'll have to agree: if you get your medical advice from Jenny McCarthy, you'll have to get your fashion advice from me,'" Dr. David Witt, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, told the IJ.
What do you think? Should parents who decline to immunize their children be sued or charged with a crime when their decision leads to an outbreak of illness? Tell us in the comments below.