In Orange County, California, wealthier, better-educated parents are less inclined to immunise their children. Doctors warn of a public health time-bomb
Rory Carroll in Los Angeles
Saturday 17 January 2015
Travel north to south in Orange County, a coastal strip of 34 cities in southern California which includes Disneyland, and the growing size and opulence of the houses show people getting richer.
Trawl medical records, and you notice something else: children getting fewer vaccinations.
“The rate of immunisation falls as you go north to south. It tracks the socio-economic statistics in the county,” said Matt Zahn, medical director of Epidemiology and Assessment for the Orange County Health Care Agency.
At Capistrano Unified school district, for instance, there was a 9.5% rate of children not fully vaccinated because of parents’ beliefs. At the nearby, poorer Santa Ana Unified district, in contrast, only 0.2% of kindergartners had exemptions on file.
A measles outbreak at Disneyland, stemming from an unvaccinated young woman dubbed patient zero, has shone a light on such dichotomies. Officials have confirmed at least 32 cases, almost all of them unvaccinated.
It is a strange first-world irony that wealthier, better-educated parents are the ones reducing infant vaccination rates, said Zahn. “Many people in this country have never seen a case of measles,” he said. “We’re a victim of our own success.”
The outbreak has triggered recrimination towards an eclectic group of activists who are accused of sabotaging immunisation campaigns by peddling medical myths.
“If we get to a few thousand cases in this country we’ll start seeing deaths. That’s unconscionable,” said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.