A doctor vaccinates a young girl. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control
A doctor vaccinates a young girl. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control

Beginning this month, all California children who attend school must be vaccinated against common diseases under a tough state law passed in the wake of the 2014 measles outbreak at Disneyland.

According to the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group in San Diego, the key requirements of the new law are:

  • All students entering kindergarten must have received their second MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot, DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) and final polio vaccine
  • All students entering seventh grade must have an updated Tdap booster immunization, which provides continued protection from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, also known as whooping cough

Unvaccinated children can attend public and private schools only if they obtain a medical exemption from a doctor. Schools will be required to verify students’ immunization records before the start of kindergarten and seventh grade.

The measles outbreak at Disneyland was blamed on the growing number of unvaccinated children in the United States. The outbreak sickened 131 in California, but there were no deaths.

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children often cite a 1998 British medical study linking vaccines to autism. The study was later determined to be an elaborate fraud, but nevertheless caused lasting damage to public health.

Dr. Howard Smart, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Sharp Rees-Stealy, said parents were typically concerned about the MMR vaccine when choosing not to vaccinate their children.

“Often their concerns are about the measles and autism. There is so much evidence that the MMR vaccine is not related to autism,” he said. “Sometimes they are worried about giving too many shots at once, but there are many studies showing that’s not true either.”

He said whooping cough, which is prevented by the DTaP and Tdap vaccines, has become an epidemic in California, especially for babies exposed to older, unvaccinated children. More cases have been reported in 2015 than in any year since the 1950s. The death rate for young children who get the disease is 1 in 100.

“Whooping cough isn’t dangerous if you are 12, but if you cough on other people’s babies, those are the ones who can die,” he said, pointing out that nine of the 10 babies who died in 2010 –the first year of the current epidemic — were under the age of the first vaccination.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.