Michael Hiltzik

Anti-vaccination update: How the measles crisis struck Disneyland

The anti-vaccination crisis brings measles home--to Disneyland

As many as 12 measles cases have been connected to visits to Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure Park, California public health authorities say--including at least six occurring in people who were unvaccinated for the disease. Among them were two infants too young for immunizations.

This looks like another artifact of the rise of the anti-vaccination movement. The Disneyland cases undermine the anti-vaccination argument that leaving children unimmunized affects only those who haven't received shots. They show how a single unimmunized carrier can spread disease into the larger population, especially individuals who can't be vaccinated because of age.

As my colleague Emily Foxhall reported, the Department of Public Health believes that a single unimmunized visitor to Disneyland or the adjacent California Adventure Park in Anaheim from Dec. 15 to Dec. 20 was the source of the latest outbreak. The infection then spread to patients in Pasadena, the counties of Alameda, Orange, Riverside and San Diego, and Utah, affecting children as young as 8 months. Of the victims, one had received the standard two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

Two San Diego county siblings who were exposed at Disney may have later spread measles to people who were at the Parkway Plaza Mall in El Cajon on Dec. 29, the CDPH says.

As the public health agency observes, measles was judged to be eliminated in the United States in 2000. But recent outbreaks in Europe, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines can be brought to the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers. "Disney and other theme parks in California are international attractions and visitors come from many parts of the world, including those where measles is endemic," the CDPH says. Obviously, Disney isn't at fault in this outbreak--heedless parents leaving their children unvaccinated are. 

Measles cases in the U.S. reached 610 from Jan. 1, 2014, through Nov. 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the highest count since 2000, and it's unmistakably linked to anti-vaccination sentiment; most of the cases were in unvaccinated individuals, the CDC says. 

As we wrote earlier, "the anti-vaccination movement is a corner of the United States that is backsliding into medieval ignorance." Alarmingly, it finds a welcoming embrace in some of our most affluent and ostensibly educated communities, such as Marin County. Entertainment figures such as the starlet Jenny McCarthy and the talk show host Katie Couric have played their role in spreading the darkness, as we reported here and here.

In Marin, prominent pediatricians spread vaccine doubts among parents. Some advise parents to put off the MMR vaccine until age 3, two years later than the CDC recommends, on the complacent reasoning that these diseases aren't much of a threat in the Bay Area. The Disney outbreak illustrates the flaw in that reasoning and its dangers to the community at large, and underscores why physicians who abet the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases should have their licenses examined. Medical Board of California, are you listening? 

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