by Daphne Ford
Since a case of measles was reported at Disneyland Resort in early January of this year, news of the epidemic has spread almost as rapidly as the disease itself.
Amidst the nationwide discussion regarding measles, a recurring topic has been Marin County’s significantly low vaccination rates; Marin County statistics have been featured in stories published by several major news sources. The inspiring story of 7-year-old Marin first grade and leukemia survivor Rhett Krawitt, who’s inability to vaccinate due to his compromised immune system puts him at great risk of contracting the disease, has gone viral. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show has chimed in the discussion with a segmented cleverly titled, “Les Measlesrables,” in which he mocks residents of Marin County for their “mindful stupidity.”
With the lowest vaccination rates in California, Marin County has garnered a lot of attention, as well as a substantial amount of criticism in the past few months and has sparked a dialogue within the community.
This year, 121 cases of measles have been reported in the United States by the Center for Disease Control, with two in Marin County. During the 2013-2014 school year, 7.6 percent of kindergartners in Marin County were reported as being not fully vaccinated. At some Marin County schools, this number has reached over 50 percent.
In California, parents have the option to opt for “personal belief exemptions,” which allow children to attend school without proof of laboratory vaccinations.
Last month, board members for the Reed Union School District in Tiburon voted 4-1 to support legislation abolishing personal belief vaccine exemptions in California.
Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke issued an open letter urging parents to vaccinate their children, “While parents may have the statutory right of refusal, they do not have the ethical right to expose others to their children’s lack of protection. In other words, having the right to do something does not mean it is always the right thing to do. Fifty years ago, children suffered from measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), smallpox, chicken pox, polio, typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever and tetanus, to name a few childhood diseases. Today, most of these diseases have been virtually eliminated, due to the development of vaccines. Would any of us as parents or grandparents want to return to the 'good old days?' Would any of us want to be responsible for the illness or death of our own child or the child of other parents because we refused to take advantage of available, proven, very low risk preventive measures?”
Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer issued a letter to parents with a similar message. Willis explained, “Measles is a very contagious airborne illness and is highly preventable through vaccination. The virus is spread by sharing the same area with an infected person, especially if that person coughs or sneezes. Individuals are usually contagious starting four days before they develop symptoms, and may unknowingly make others ill.” He goes on to add, “It takes two weeks to develop immunity after receiving a measles vaccine. Unvaccinated or under vaccinated children should be vaccinated as soon as possible so they will have protection and to prevent future absences from school.”
Both letters included a warning that if a case of measles is reported at a school, any child without laboratory proof of immunization will be excluded from attending school for 21 days.
Though school and health board officials have been urging parents to vaccinate, many Marin County residents disagree.
There are numerous reasons why parents avoid vaccinating their children today. Some feel that vaccines are medically ineffective, or irrelevant due to the fact that many of the illnesses vaccines aim to protect against have virtually disappeared. Others fear that vaccines contain harmful substances that can lead to disabilities, such as autism and autoimmune diseases. Many argue that vaccines interfere with personal philosophical or spiritual beliefs.
Some feel that while vaccines are necessary, they can be harmful when administered too frequently in a short period of time. Pediatric Alternatives in Mill Valley offers parents the choice to give their children vaccinations one at a time and only when their child is in good health.
It should be noted that the 1998 study linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism published in Lancet Journal by medical researched Andrew Wakefield has since been discredited and Wakefield has been barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. and does not have a license to practice medicine in the U.S..
Dr. Don Harte of The Harte of Chiropractic in Corte Madera feels that vaccinations, including the MRR vaccine, do far more harm than good. Dr. Harte stated, ”Vaccination is not the same as immunization. That is a myth. Immunization occurs naturally from getting a disease or at least getting exposed to a disease. It goes through a variety of complex processes through the immune system. Vaccination tries to shortcut all that.” Dr. Harte added that by avoiding vaccinations, “You’re not getting poisoned. There are poisons, neurotoxins and immunotoxins in every vaccination: aluminum, mercury, formaldehyde, MSG, latex rubber, glycol, which is antifreeze.”
Dr. Harte feels that while vaccinations are a great cause for concern, the numerous cases of measles recently reported in the U.S. are nothing to lose sleep over. Dr. Harte stated, “You have 100 cases in a population of this country of 320 million people and you’re told it’s an epidemic…You have millions of kids that are autistic, that have juvenile arthritis, that have Crohn's disease, learning disabilities, autism. This is an epidemic. Millions of kids—and these are tragic things. Measles is a joke. I got measles as a kid. Everybody my age got measles as a kid, nobody died. We never heard of anybody dying. This is just an outrageous lie, the whole thing.”
With school and government officials cracking down and citizens speaking up in resistance, Marin County continues to debate: vaccines or measles- which is the greater risk?