In order to address pockets of the community who have opted out of vaccinating their children, a handful of local doctors took to the stage at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday night to talk about the importance of immunizations.
Sansum Clinic hosted the “Strive for 95” symposium on Thursday, which the clinic officials stated was a community-wide effort to rebuild the community’s immunity back up where 95 percent of people are immunized, thus protecting the remaining 5 percent of people who are too sick or too young to handle immunizations. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital was a sponsor of the event.
Vaccination has been in the headlines recently because of the measles outbreak at Disneyland and more locally after a measles scare and the tragic death of a 1-month-old infant who died from pertussis after an adult caretaker who was not immunized came into contact with the infant.
Doctors at Thursday night’s forum said state data show that only about half of kindergartners entering school have the necessary immunizations they need.
On Thursday night, speakers included Dr. Steven Barkley of Cottage Children’s Hospital and medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; Sansum pediatrician Dr. Dan Brennan; Dr. Charity Dean of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department; Dr. David Fisk, who works for both Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinic in Infectious Diseases; and Sansum Dr. Mary-Louise Scully, who works in the infectious disease department as well as being the director of Travel and Tropical Medicine Center.
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, CEO and chief medical officer for Sansum Clinic.
“We know there are intelligent people with different points of view,” Ransohoff said, but added that the panel would be taking questions, which the public was invited to submit, and most focused on the safety of vaccines.
Brennan explained that the Strive for 95 campaign is a grassroots to educate people.
“There are a lot of out neighbors or family members that have immune systems that don’t work,” he said, such as people recently diagnosed with cancer, someone who had lupus and an infant too young to get vaccinations.
Brennan is a pediatrician and said that over the past six months, the state provided data that raised some red flags. More kindergartners are entering school without the necessary vaccinations, he said, as more parents opt of the vaccines.
In one of the most dramatic examples locally, 68 percent of kindergartners beginning school at Waldorf School for the 2014-15 year are listed as opting out of vaccinations for a personal belief exemption, leaving only 32 percent of kindergartners up-to-date on their vaccinations, according to state data from the shotsforschool.org website. That site can be accessed by anyone wanting to check the rates of immunizations at schools from child-care centers to colleges.
“We’ve spent time talking to our families in the office,” Brennan said, as well as teaching parents how to educated other parents about immunization.
Parents and children leaving the office after being vaccinated get a pin that says “Strive for 95,” which Brennan was similar to an “I Voted” sticker.
“It’s a gentle non-confrontational reminder to get your vaccines,” he said.
Fisk said that many people in the United States don’t remember what it was like to be in a world without vaccines.
“Smallpox we don’t even talk about anymore,” he said, adding that it was considered one of the great plagues of the society before vaccination.
Photos of Iron Lungs supporting people with polio were shown, and Fisk said that measles had been eliminated by 2000 because of vaccination, but that more recently outbreaks had been seen in the state.
Dean explained how quarantine works, and that public health has to work to discover who have been in close contact with the person with a disease like measles, because measles can be contagious before the person even shows a rash or look sick.
“There are situations where we might put an entire class on quarantine,” she said. “This issue is here and it is very real.”
Barkley said that infants in the womb are transferred immunity, but babies that are born prematurely may not receive all of the immunity from their mother.
“They are at incredible risk for contracting diseases that come their way,” he said.
For about 40 percent of schools in the area, there is excellent immunity, he said, but for most schools, the rates of immunity need to rise.
“We have some schools that have staggering low rates of immunization,” he said.
Scully said that in her travels to sub-saharan Africa and other locations where there is a higher prevalence of disease, there is a higher acceptance of vaccines.
Brennan stated that there have been many studies stating that there is no link between the use of vaccines and autism.
“That’s something I can say with 100 percent confidence with my patients,” he said, adding that he considers vaccinations “the most important thing I do for my patients.”
Personal belief exemptions were touched on by Fisk, who said that many times affluent communities and schools have high rates of people opting out of vaccinations.
Senate Bill 277, a law that would eliminate personal belief exemptions, whether for religious or philosophical reasons, has been tabled before key senate committee, and another bill, Senate Bill 792, was also discussed on the panel Thursday.
That bill would require daycare facility workers to be up to date on all routine immunizations.
Barkley said that there is a real but limited role for doctors, but that people closer to the community, like school nurses and informed and respected parents, are important to the conversation.
Brennan recalled a particularly moving story of a three-year-old girl he had seen as a patient from her infancy, and her parents had refused to allow the girl to get her Hepatitis series of shots.
They later discovered the girl had inherited a genetic degenerative kidney disorder and would need a kidney transplant.
When medical staff learned she had not been immunized, she was out of the running for the organ donation that was needed to save her life.
“She couldn’t even go on the list,” Brennan said, tearing up. The girl eventually got the shots, was put on the list and received an organ and “seven years later, she’s really doing great.”
Brennan also said that there was an act of congress in 2001 to remove Thimerosal, one of the vaccine components under scrutiny at the time, and that no routine child immunizations now contain that ingredient.
However, there was no difference in the rates of autism since the removal of the ingredient from vaccines.
“That’s a message i think is really important to get across,” Brennan said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.