By Jim Welte and Jennifer Squires
An article in Slate 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 pointed to 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 Slate article comes as public health officers are reminding parents to bring proof of vaccinations when enrolling their children in school.
In California, kindergartners need five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), four polio, three hepatitis B, two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and one varicella (chickenpox) shot.
However, California is one of 18 states 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.
Out of the 1,688 children who enrolled as kindergarteners in the Pajaro Valley School District last year, just 23 started school without having received the battery of vaccinations required by the state because of the personal beliefs of their parents or guardians (PBEs).
The graph above shows the PBEs in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District last year. Only seven of 15 PVUSD elementary schools had students whose parents obtained PBEs.
That figure is below than the statewide average of 2.7 percent and considerably lower than the average for Santa Cruz County of 9.6 percent.
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.