County’s immunization rates dangerously low |

County’s immunization rates dangerously low

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Nevada County has the lowest rates for childhood immunization in the state of California, making the entire region vulnerable to potentially severe outbreaks of infectious disease, health officials said Tuesday.

“A community with a low vaccination rate is susceptible to outbreaks,” said Dr. Karen Milman, the director of the Nevada County Health Department. “Immunizations are not only about protecting the individual child but also the child next to them.”

For the school year 2011-12, 760 kindergarten-aged children enrolled in Nevada County schools, of which 544 (72 percent) were fully up to date on all immunizations, according to results tabulated and published by the California Department of Public Health.

The rate is the lowest among the 58 counties that comprise California.

Of the 154 students that were not up to date on their vaccinations in the county, all cited a “personal belief exemption.”

The exemption has a rather broad application and can cover individuals who are genuinely opposed to immunizations for religious, philosophical, logistic or economic reasons, Milman said.

“Some of it is convenience, where people may think it is easier not to go through with the process,” she said. “Some of it is access issues, and I think a smaller percentage is due to economics, where parents may have a high co-pay.”

Milman acknowledges that rumors connecting childhood vaccinations to high autism rates may have had an effect on the parental decisions.

“That medical study has been completely debunked,” Milman said. “The doctor who conducted the study has had his medical license revoked because
it was proven he fabricated
data. Unfortunately, it may be too late.”

The rumor has taken hold and affected the decision-making process for many parents, Milman said.

Autism rates are on the rise, but reasons for the spike can be attributed to more rigorous diagnosis, a better understanding of autism symptoms and treatment options, environmental issues and the fact that parents are waiting later in life to have children, Milman said.

Consequences for children whose parents elect to forgo vaccinations vary according to the community and school, Milman said, but children who are not up to date can be restricted from going to school if an outbreak of infectious disease occurs.

The common perception that the diseases covered by the vaccinations are ancient and no longer present is incorrect, Milman said.

Milman cited the 2011 outbreak of measles in Europe, where thousands of cases and multiple deaths occurred, according to the Associated Press.

The United Nations health agency attributed the outbreak to a failure to vaccinate children, the AP reported.

In February, while the New York Giants and their fans were celebrating a Super Bowl victory in Indianapolis, the Indiana Health Department was busy warning the revelers in town for the large event that an individual with measles had attended the festivities.

As a result, two more cases of infection were reported, according to the AP.

Those infected had attended downtown events in connection with the football game.

In 2011, the California Department of Public Health reported about 2,100 cases of pertussis, known as whooping cough, a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing, according to previous reports.

Another myth, Milman said, is that the diseases covered by vaccinations, such as chicken pox, are annoying, but harmless.

Chicken pox is widely viewed as a rite of passage, an inconvenient but essentially innocuous disease that children contract once then move on, Milman said. But if an infected child is in proximity to a pregnant woman, that child is putting the fetus in severe peril, she said.

The county health department is attempting to combat the low immunization rates with outreach, but funding of programs is problematic, Milman said.

The county public health director also pointed to the passage of California Assembly Bill 2019, which requires parents to consult with a health care practitioner about the risks of not vaccinating in order to obtain the personal belief exemption.

Education of parents as to the consequences of not having children immunized is paramount, Milman said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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