A new generation of ‘hesitant vaxxers’ is alarming pediatricians

Karla Benzl, of Mission Viejo holds her 15-month-old son, Marcus while he gets a shot
Karla Benzl, of Mission Viejo, center, holds her 15-month-old son, Marcus, while he gets a vaccination.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, March 13. I am Jenny Gold. I cover early childhood education for The Times. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Pandemic-era vaccine misinformation has scared parents away from other vaccines

When my son was an infant, I couldn’t wait for him to be old enough to get the measles vaccine. This was about five years ago, and cases of measles were popping up around California, including in my local grocery store, where an infected child had been shopping with their parent. I was worried that my baby too could be infected in an outbreak, since he was still too young to be eligible for the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR).

So I was enormously relieved when he turned 1 and became eligible for the vaccine. I took him to the pediatrician as quickly as possible. Finally, I didn’t have to worry about the measles because he was protected. But after years of fear and misinformation about vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic, not all parents are pleased at the prospect of routine childhood vaccines like MMR — even as measles cases pop up across the country, including several in California.


A new pool of children may be vulnerable to diseases like measles

I spoke with pediatricians across the state who told me that more and more parents of babies and toddlers are requesting delays to the CDC’s recommended schedule of vaccines, including MMR — sometimes by a few months and sometimes by several years. They worry that the result is a vulnerable pool of very young children who may be at risk of contracting measles, a potentially deadly yet preventable disease. At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, for example, attending pediatrician Dr. Colleen Kraft told me that about half of parents are questioning the CDC schedule — a significant increase since the pandemic. “Even my most reasonable parents ask questions. So it’s definitely in the mainstream,” she said.

In Orange County, Dr. Eric Ball said he has parents who happily vaccinated their first two children before the pandemic but are now questioning the need to vaccinate their third. And in Marin County, Dr. Nelson Branco told me that so many parents are requesting delays that his practice recently decided to tighten vaccine requirements. If parents don’t agree, they must leave the practice.

“Especially early on, when a parent is already feeling really vulnerable and doesn’t want to give something to their beautiful baby who was just born if they don’t need it, it makes them think, ‘Maybe I’ll just delay it and wait and see,’” said Dr. Whitney Casares, a pediatrician and author who has written about vaccination for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “What they don’t realize is if they don’t vaccinate according to the recommended schedule, that can really set their child up for a whole lot of risks.” Measles is known as perhaps the most contagious disease on Earth — 90% of unprotected people who are exposed catch it, and the virus can remain contagious in the air or on a surface for two hours after an infected person departs a room. One in 5 unvaccinated people who get measles in the U.S. will be hospitalized, and 1 to 3 children in 1,000 will die, according to the CDC.

California is no stranger to measles outbreaks

In December 2014, an unvaccinated 11-year-old was hospitalized with measles following a visit to Disneyland. Over the next few months, measles spread to 125 people across seven states.


The outbreak helped galvanize support for vaccination nationwide, and a year after the Disneyland outbreak, California banned parents’ personal beliefs as a reason to skip vaccinating children before they start school.

And it worked: In California, the measles vaccination rate for kindergartners has grown from 92% in the 2013-14 school year to 96.5% in 2022-23. That’s much higher than the national rate for kindergartners, which dropped from 95% in the 2019-20 school year to 93% in 2022-23, according to the CDC.

At least 95% of people must be vaccinated to achieve a level of “herd immunity” that protects everyone in a community, including those who cannot get the vaccine because they are too young or are immunocompromised, according to the World Health Organization.

But parents who are now postponing vaccinations until their children are 2 or even 3 years old have created a potential vulnerability gap for California’s babies and toddlers.

“Kids are doing a lot of things that are high-risk before they’re 5 and are required to be vaccinated to attend kindergarten,” said Branco. “They’re getting on international flights, they’re going to Disneyland where there are lots of kids,” leaving young children vulnerable to measles when they could be protected.

Read more:


Today’s top stories

A person walks beside an apartment for rent sign
An apartment for rent sign is posted in South Pasadena.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)


Climate and environment

Crime and courts

More big stories

Get unlimited access to the Los Angeles Times. Subscribe here.

Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

A girl stands on the yellow stripe in the middle of a street
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

She’s 12. She runs an under-3-hour marathon. And she’s prepping for the 2028 Olympics. Evan Kim is a 5-foot-tall tween who wants to be an elementary school teacher — and the fastest 12-year-old marathoner ever.


Other great reads

How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to

For your downtime

Ariana Madix, RuPaul, Lauren Graham and Kerry Washington.
Clockwise from top left: Ariana Madix, RuPaul, Lauren Graham and Kerry Washington.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP; Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP; Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! We’re running low on submissions. Send us photos that scream California and we may feature them in an edition of Essential California.

A 300-square-foot ADU above a garage
A 300-square-foot ADU above the garage of architects Jefferson Schierbeek and Su Addison, seen from the alley behind their home, in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin at the home of two L.A. architects who designed a 300-square-foot ADU that pulls in $1,750 a month.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team
Jenny Gold, reporter
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Stephanie Chavez, deputy metro editor

Check our top stories, topics and the latest articles on