As the measles outbreak spreads from Disneyland, the vaccination debate heats up

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Parents are wondering if it’s safe to take their kids to Disneyland as a measles outbreak continues to spread, infecting at least 70 people. Most of those affected are from California, but there have been cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Mexico, as visitors returned home from the theme park.

In 2000, measles was declared to be eliminated in the United States, but the CDC reported 644 cases last year; and this current outbreak is raising concerns about the anti-vaccination movement. “This is absolutely -100 percent – a vaccine-preventable disease,” Jill Hoffman at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles told Which Way, LA?  

“I think people like me who have known that a day like this was coming soon,” Patsy Stinchfield of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota told Press Play. When the two factors: “a highly contagious virus” comes to “a poorly vaccinated community, which California is,” it’s inevitable, she said.

NPR reports that vaccination status isn’t known for all of those who were affected.

Vaccination status is known for 34 of the California patients. State officials say that 28 were not vaccinated at all, one was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated. Six of the unvaccinated were babies, too young to be vaccinated.

The disease is extremely contagious and can be deadly. The CDC says if “one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” And it can be spread before symptoms show up.

California’s state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez has been urging people to get vaccinated, and told potential Disneyland visitors to stay away if they haven’t had their shots. 

It’s ironic, maybe, that measles hit at “the happiest place on Earth.” The reality is that any place where diverse travelers come together (think: convention center) could be ground zero for this sort of thing.

The whole thing is firing up the debate over vaccines, particularly in California, where unvaccinated families tend to cluster, befriending each other and sending their kids to the same schools. (You can check the vaccination rate of your local kindergarten here).

Vaccines are required by law for school children, but there is a “personal exception” available. As it’s become trendier to opt out of vaccinations, the immunization rate has dropped for kindergarteners in California.

“When you look right now at some of the wealthiest zip codes in California, they have some of the lowest immunization rates in the world,” said Patsy Stinchfield. “There’s a responsibility, to keep that firewall up, of vaccinations, so we don’t allow measles into a community.”

Stichfield witnessed a devastating outbreak of measles in Minnesota and has been working on vaccination efforts ever since. “When you work in a children’s hospital, you see the worst of the worst, and so I think it’s our responsibility to share that with other people this is not just a rash, you have to understand, your child could be on a ventilator, your child could have permanent brain damage, your child could never be the same,” said Stinchfield.