Marin parents influenced by unfounded medical advice

Simone Wolberg

In 2013, it’s hard to believe that a medical myth, popularized by uninformed celebrities, could threaten the lives of local children.

Children who have not been vaccinated are causing disease outbreaks in Marin.  Pertussis, a once nearly-eradicated disease, has been reported on the Redwood campus, according to Principal David Sondheim’s alert on August 28. The alert mentions that the TDAP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Acellular Pertussis) vaccination can prevent a student from contracting the illness, though many parents in Marin, protected by state law, choose not to vaccinate their children.

Under the “Personal Belief Exemption” in California, a child otherwise protected from questionable medical advice can become exposed to diseases like pertussis.  Any parent, by signing a waiver acknowledging that their children may be kept out of school during disease outbreaks, can opt their child out of any and all necessary immunizations approved by government health organizations.

This exemption from both common sense and recommended medical practice had, until the late 1990s, remained used at a relatively small one and a half percent of parents statewide.   Then, due to the popularization of a discredited report linking childhood immunization to autism, the usage of this exemption has been rising steadily, reaching 2.8 percent statewide in 2012-13.

In Marin, likely due to the spread of this urban myth, the usage of the “Personal Belief Exemption” has nearly doubled from 4.2 percent in 2005 to 7.8 percent in 2012-13, according to county records.

To make matters worse, celebrities with no medical or scientific qualifications continue to spew quasi-medical nonsense on daily celebrity talk shows.  Jenny McCarthy, a prime anti-vaccine advocate, will become a co-host of the morning TV talk show, “The View,” in September. She has publicly claimed for years that vaccines are the cause of her son’s autism.  Her TV appearances will no doubt add to the hysteria.

The medical advice talk shows give is not only wrong, but completely contradicts what the government recommends.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children be vaccinated against 15 different common childhood illnesses such as pertussis, mumps, and diphtheria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, data for 2012 shows that more than 41,000 pertussis cases were reported in the United States.  During this time, 18 deaths have been reported—the majority of these deaths were in children younger than three months of age.  If children in Marin are not vaccinated, not only are the non-immunized children under threat, but the chances of statewide and nationwide disease outbreaks are likewise increased.

Vaccines save many lives–only in rare cases do they have harmful side effects.  Out of the millions of different vaccinations administered yearly, only 30,000 cases since 1990 caused “adverse reactions,” according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).  Only 13% of the 30,000 are classified as serious, meaning “associated with permanent disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illness, or death.”  None of these “serious reactions” are autism.

Fortunately, a new state law, AB2109, takes effect in January, requiring parents to consult with a health care professional before signing the exemption.  Hopefully a quick consultation will wake up some of those Marin parents susceptible to harmful medical myth.