Officials fight back against anti-immunization parents

Measles outbreak prompts health officials to take action in schools

Health officials have long been frustrated with the increasing number of parents who decline to have their children vaccinated.

But as the Disneyland measles outbreak continues to spread, they have found a new weapon. Orange County’s Health Care Agency has ordered more than 20 students without proof of immunization to stay home from Huntington Beach High School for the next three weeks after an infected student was identified there. 

Q: Why are they doing this?

"If there is a case in the school and their child is not immunized, they will be removed from the school for 21 days," said Dr. Eric Handler, the Orange County public health officer. "From an epidemiological standpoint, in order to prevent spread of the disease, this is a necessary measure."

Health officials said they would take the same action in other schools if measles are detected.

Q: Is there a history of this action?

In 1977, Los Angeles County health officials had faced two measles deaths, as well as three cases of brain inflammation and numerous cases of pneumonia requiring hospitalization stemming from measles, according to an article in the journal Vaccine. Desperate county health officials ordered all children who had no proof of measles immunity to get the shot or be banned from school.

About 50,000 students were ultimately told to stay away from class because they had no proof of inoculation. Within days, "most were back at school with proof of immunity, and the number of reported measles cases dropped precipitously," the report said.

Q: Do many parents refuse to have their children immunized?

Orange County is home to several upscale communities where a higher than average number of parents have opted to not fully vaccinate their children because of their personal beliefs. Experts say it's a problem when 8% or more decline vaccines that keep diseases such as measles from spreading.

In the Huntington Beach City School District, 2 out of 7 elementary schools' kindergarten classes exceed that number: S.A. Moffett Elementary, where 10% were exempted from vaccines for personal beliefs, and Huntington Seacliff Elementary, pegged at 11%.

A Times analysis published last year found that 9.5% of kindergartners in Capistrano Unified School District in south Orange County in 2013 were exempted from vaccinations because of personal beliefs; the rate was 14.8% at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The rate statewide that year was 3.1%.

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