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Healthy Outlook

Accurate Vaccine Information Essential for Our Children’s Health, Community’s Health

By Paul Leung

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

These days, most parents automatically buckle up their children whenever they get in the car. Nobody expects to crash, but we all know this simple step reduces our chances of harm if the unthinkable happens.

But what about getting the measles vaccine? Or whooping cough, or polio?

We know that these diseases can sicken, hospitalize, and even kill. We also know that getting the recommended vaccinations is the best way to avoid them, yet a growing number of parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

Their reasons vary, but the common thread is misinformation about vaccines and what they do. The truth is that declining to vaccinate not only puts their children at risk, but also our community.

But with the introduction of a new California law, AB2109, parents who are considering skipping school-required immunizations for their children must now meet with their healthcare provider to discuss vaccine and disease facts so they can make an informed decision based on accurate information.

Families are still able to opt out of school-required vaccinations, including for whooping cough, measles, rubella, and chicken pox, through a Personal Belief Exemption. The new law, which took effect in January, encourages dialogue and well-reasoned decisions at a time when much of what is said about vaccines appears legitimate but is often inaccurate.

That is important, because declining to vaccinate is not strictly a personal decision, just like choosing to share second-hand smoke. A decision not to vaccinate against preventable diseases can harm others.

Many of these diseases only need a small number of non-immune people – about 10 percent – to cause outbreaks within a community. When larger proportions of a population vaccinate against a disease, its ability to spread is greatly reduced.

On the other hand, clusters of unvaccinated children at a particular school or daycare facility can allow preventable diseases to spread quickly through that campus and into the general community.

Anyone can be affected, including people who get all their shots. That is because no vaccine is 100 percent effective, just as seat belts do not completely protect drivers from any harm.

But when more people vaccinate, it lowers everyone’s exposure to dangerous diseases. The new law requires engagement in this conversation, so parents are aware of the risks to their children and their community when they skip doctor-recommended vaccinations.

We want to send our children to successful schools. Parents commonly look at test performance scores to gauge the quality of a school, even basing decisions about where to relocate on such factors.

But we also want those schools to be safe and healthy, and immunization level is one more piece of information we can use to evaluate the safety of schools. We encourage everyone to visit cchealth.org and examine a new, interactive map showing immunization levels at all licensed child care facilities and kindergartens in Contra Costa County.

For more information about school vaccinations, or to view Contra Costa County’s school vaccination maps, visit cchealth.org/immunization/school-iz-levels.php

We hope that getting their kids vaccinated soon becomes an automatic for parents, just like buckling them up when they get in the car.

Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.
About the Author

Paul Leung is the Immunization Coordinator for Contra Costa Health Services.