Palo Alto school district disputes state's records of measles immunizations


Despite cases of the measles now showing up in Santa Clara County, some Palo Alto schools still have up to 12 percent of elementary school students who are not properly immunized, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

Five Palo Alto Unified School District elementary schools range from 88 to 93 percent immunized students; two private Palo Alto elementary schools fall below 94 percent. For a population to be adequately protected from measles, researchers generally think up to 94 percent of people must be immune either by prior infection or by vaccination. Some studies, however, assert that rate could be as low as 83 percent.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is caused by a virus. California has recently seen 79 confirmed measles cases as of Wednesday, Jan. 28. Two cases each were in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. An outbreak at Disneyland accounted for 52 cases, according to the department of public health.

Palo Alto schools in general have a high rate of students whose measles vaccinations are up to date. Duveneck Elementary's students are all vaccinated, and 99 percent of Nixon's are.

But 12 percent of Addison students are not adequately vaccinated; 9 percent of Walter Hays, Ohlone and Juana Briones students are lacking immunization, as are 7 percent at El Carmelo.

The private Challenger School has a 13 percent unvaccinated rate, and St. Elizabeth Seton's is 10 percent, according to the state data. (UPDATE: St. Elizabeth Seton disputes the figures and says 100 percent of students are immunized.)

But school district spokesperson Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley questioned the state's figures. Children whose families traveled during the summer might not have gotten a needed vaccine just before school, she said, but they were immunized later and that fact was not capture in the public-health department's numbers.

The district's figures for measles under-immunization show Addison at 5.1 percent, Juana Briones at 3.5 percent, Ohlone 7 percent and Walter Hays at 3.2 percent.

Challenger School officials did not return requests for comment on why the numbers of unvaccinated students are high.

In East Palo Alto, all public elementary schools are within the 96- to 100-percent immunization range, according to the state data.

A Kaiser Permanente study published Jan. 18 in the journal Pediatrics found that race, ethnicity and neighborhood income were not dominant factors where clusters of low immunization were found. But there were lower vaccination rates in families with more graduate degrees. The study did not analyze the reasons.

Dr. Ross DeHovitz, an immunization expert at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, said that resistance to immunizing has come in waves, with the most recent wave occurring after the 1998 Wakefield study linked autism to the measles vaccine. That study has since been debunked, and the medical journal The Lancet retracted the research. But hesitancy is still pervasive, he said.

Some parents do receive exemptions based on personal, faith or for medical reasons, Kappeler-Hurley noted. But California law now requires a signature from a health care practitioner to obtain the exemption.

The Kaiser study did find a correlation between under-vaccination and increased disease incidence.

"Measles cases were relatively rare until 2014. It's taken off across the country, aided by previous outbreaks in Ohio and New York and now at Disney," Dr. Charles Weiss, a Palo Alto Medical Foundation public-health expert, said.

Parents who have not had their children vaccinated should be very concerned, he added.

"If you put one person with active measles into a population without measles who are not immune, it will spread to 12 to 18 people," Weiss said. By comparison, someone with influenza would infect one or two people, he said.

Measles begins with a fever that lasts a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and a rash. The rash typically appears first on the face, along the hairline and behind the ears and then affects the rest of the body, according to the public-health department. Infected people are usually contagious from four days before the rash appears to four days afterward. Weiss said complications can include pneumonia, severe diarrhea, encephalitis and death.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation does not normally see any cases of measles. So far, systemwide, PAMF has confirmed two cases, one each in 2014 and 2015, Weiss said.

Measles vaccine is a live virus that has been weakened through manufacturing. Two doses are necessary because only 90 percent of people respond to the first vaccine by creating adequate antibodies. The second brings the response rate to 99 percent, DeHovitz said.

The vaccine can sometimes cause a very mild infection, he said. The vaccinations provide a lifetime of protection, he added.

Adults born before 1957 are generally considered immune to measles because it was so pervasive at that time, so no further action is necessary.

To count as up to date for school records, a child must have received both doses on or after the first birthday, according to the state health department.

If anyone suspects they might have measles, they should not run to the doctor's office, Weiss said. The disease is so contagious that it could infect people in the waiting room.

"Call if you or a family member develops a fever and rash that is associated with a runny nose, cough and red eyes. Stay put at home. Don't come in without calling. You'll be met at a side door and given a mask by a staff person," he said. Anyone who has traveled within 21 days and has symptoms should also tell their doctor.

Click here to see a chart on the number of immunized students in the Palo Alto Unified School District. Click here for the PAUSD chart of measles vaccinations, updated as of Jan. 31. 2015.

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8 people like this
Posted by why
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

Why aren't kids getting their immunizations? Parents watching too much FOX NEWS?

8 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:22 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

There was a bogus 'study' some years back linking immunizations to autism. Even the author has now admitted he made it all up, but the info keeps circulating.

11 people like this
Posted by Make an appointment to immunize your child TODAY
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

Responsible Parents,

If you have not already done so, please make an appointment to get your beloved child immunized TODAY. Do not wait. Imagine how you will feel if your failure to do this results in your child's death. Imagine how you will feel if you failure leads to an epidemic that results in the deaths of your friends' children. This is the likely outcome of failure to immunize.

Just do soon as you possibly can.

5 people like this
Posted by Fox News???
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:02 pm

No, this has nothing to do with Fox News, rather wealthy entitled Marin County parents who fail to immunize little Johnny and Suzie, to the detriment and risk of their fellow classmates. Take a look where the exemptions have been, I don't think they fall in Fox territory.

1 person likes this
Posted by InternetDog
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

The Internet never forgets!
So if people do 'research' (searches) about measles they will likely come across the since debunked study linking measles immunization to autism.
Such articles are not removed nor stamped "debunked" or "invalid" or "not true", and if the follow-on articles are not found and read, parents believe it.

7 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:06 pm

@ why.....What on earth does Fox News have to do with a drop in parents opting out of measles immunizations? This is a relatively benign virus that has a lifespan of about 9 days and lifetime immunity occurs after one episode. Certainly, there are symptoms associated with the virus that make life uncomfortable during the active phase, but generally it is not a life threatening disease and if there are complications, they can usually be managed medically.

What concerns many who opt out is that despite what pro-immunization advocates want you to believe, there are risks with many of the vaccines recommended for infants and children. Currently, the CDC recommends 49 injections of 14 different sera before the age of 6. Some may consider this a bit of overkill.

What I find interesting is that the people who scream the loudest about immunizing their kids shouldn't really have to worry. After all, their kids are immunized. And one more thing. Natural immunity to any disease is more preferred than the artificial variety.

I would suggest looking at the National Vaccine Information Center for another viewpoint on the subject.

2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm

@Fox News ???? Once again, I submit that if your child is immunized, why are you worried about those that aren't? What is the risk and detriment to the immunized child? They are supposedly protected, aren't they? do you not see the hypocrisy in this?

I can agree with you that Fox News has nothing to do with this and that most non-immunized kids come from more liberal (politically) backgrounds as you stated in your reference to the Marin county crowd.

Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:23 pm

The anti-vaxxers run the gamut nationally, but the distinct groups are magical thinking, white, well off and otherwise educated people - the Marin County types someone mentioned, as well as religious, Fox News-watching types.

Guess what, people, Marin County has always been part of Palo Alto in thought and deed, so no surprise in the non-vaccinated numbers.

I'm surprised they're commenting though, when their kids should be dropped off at the nearest medical facility and given vaccinations. Force them to be vaccinated, or keep their kids out of the schools.

16 people like this
Posted by Sand
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm


1 person likes this
Posted by Save us from ourselves
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

A quote from NVIC's website: "If the State can tag, track down and force citizens against their will to be injected with biologicals of known and unknown toxicity today, there will be no limit on which individual freedoms the State can take away in the name of the greater good tomorrow." Clearly MMR vaccine is UN conspiracy being foisted upon us by the jack-booted thugs in black helicopters from the New World Order.

6 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Anti-vaxxers shouldn't even be allowed to comment here with their quackery and lies.

Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Whereas I have vaccinated my own children and advocate for all to do likewise, I think it is interesting to see how things have changed now that there is a successful vaccine.

As a child we had vaccines for polio, whooping cough, smallpox, etc. But the childhood diseases of measles, german measles (rubella, chicken pox and mumps were something that we all expected and accepted as normal. I remember being sent to play with someone who had one of these so that I would get it, and had others over to play with me when I had it.

Of course none of us want to see this in epidemic terms and for some children getting sick could be a lot more serious than for others. However, although this is a serious outbreak, it is not a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Chicken pox vaccine hasn't been around for as long as the others, and getting chicken pox was something that most got over fairly quickly with slight discomfort.

Get your own kids vaccinated and there shouldn't be a problem. There's worse things as parents for us to worry about.

1 person likes this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Brit, how do you know it's not a big deal in the overall scheme of things?

4 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

@ Brit - you are wrong because vaccines are imperfect and require everyone to immunized to be maximally effective (i.e., herd immunity). When an unvaccinated child shows up at school, even at 99% effectiveness, you are likely to get several vaccinated children infected. Also, there are immunosuppressed children who can't get the vaccine who are put at extremely high risk by these selfish uninformed anti-vaccination parents.

4 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm

@38 year resident- " Currently, the CDC recommends 49 injections of 14 different sera before the age of 6."

You are spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, and probably not a parent. I couldn't have made it through 6 years of parenting with 49 injections!

Between 0-6 children typically get immunized for ~10 diseases including flu. Some require multiple doses, but many are also combined. Also, not all are injected. Even if they were all separated out, and all injected, the number would be in the 30's. not 49. But with the combined vaccines (e.g., DTaP, Hep B, and Polio) the number would be under 20.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:03 pm

@38 year resident - 14 is the right number for the number of different diseases.

Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Anti-vaxxers - and Brit - check out the impact vaccines had on beloved author Roald Dahl: Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Much ado about nothing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:18 pm

This hullabaloo over measles is ridiculous. Measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox are normal childhood diseases that almost all adults over the age of 50 contracted as children. The kids were sick for a week and they went back to school, with lifetime immunity. It is not a risky disease and complications are rare in healthy children. In past generations everybody WANTED their kids to get it so that they wouldn't have to worry about contracting it as an adult. Natural immunity is much more dependable than that acquired by vaccination.

Denigrating people who choose not to vaccinate their children ("Marin types", "FOX news listeners" etc) is rather childish and prejudicial but the one category that should catch people's attention is that they tend to be more highly educated. The "anti-vacciners" have taken the time to educate themselves on the risks of vaccines and have decided that they'd rather risk the unlikely complications of the disease than risk the complications of the vaccine. It's not just about autism - there are many studies showing links between vaccines and auto-immune disorders, asthma, peanut and other food allergies, etc.- conditions that rarely existed 50 years ago yet now are widespread. Tampering with the natural immune system can have consequences.

Regardless of whether you believe vaccines to be risky, this is America and all parents should have the right to choose whether to inject their kids with a biological agent. For those of you who believe that vaccines are safe and effective, immunize your child. As 38-year Resident said, then you don't have to worry. If kids are immuno-suppressed, they need to be given masks, kept at home (maybe home-schooled)until their immune systems are stronger. It is unreasonable to expect parents of unvaccinated children to risk their children's health to protect other kids.

8 people like this
Posted by ProVax
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Don't some schools ban peanut products because some students have allergies? If so, I'd suggest that it would be hypocritical not to ban unvaccinated students from a school with a student who is medically unable to be vaccinated. I know only a tiny fraction of unvaccinated students (at worst) could be a vector for a virus that can be vaccinated against, and that vaccines are not 100% effective, but, if there is zero tolerance for risk of exposure to an allergen, why not zero tolerance toward preventable pathogens?

3 people like this
Posted by Much ado
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:31 pm

@ProVax - there's a big difference between banning peanuts and banning children. Banning peanuts harms nobody. Requiring a child be vaccinated might harm that child.

People who refuse to vaccinate their children do so because they feel the vaccines might be harmful to their children. You certainly cannot prove that vaccines are NOT harmful and there is lots of evidence that it may be harmful and that is why vaccination needs to be a choice. Again, if you want your child to be protected then vaccinate your child.

5 people like this
Posted by My choice
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

@Memories - The story of Roald Dahl's child is very sad but it is also very atypical. The VAST majority of children recover quickly and completely from the normal childhood diseases of measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, flu. The fear that is being instilled in today's population regarding these diseases is very disproportionate to the risk.

There are many equally sad stories (easy to google) about healthy children that were vaccinated then developed Guillan-barre syndrome and died. It's a roll of the dice and different folks make different choices as to where they'd like to hedge their bets... You make your choice and I'll make mine.

4 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm

@Much ado -- STOP with the anti-vaxxer propaganda. JUST STOP.

If you truly believe that having certain diseases run rampant again is preferable to getting children properly immunized, something is truly wrong with you.

1 person likes this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm

The statement that parents with vaccinated children should not worry about unvaccinated children is misleading. While vaccines are very effective to prevent against disease, they are not 100% effective. The measles vaccine is 99% effective. But that means it is not effective in 1% of cases. As long as the disease is kept at bay (i.e. by a society of vaccinated people), the chance of the 1% contracting measles is very low (low rate of exposure). But if a measles epidemic occurs, the chance of the 1% contracting is raised (increased chance of exposure). Thus the worry that we should all have.

There are also comments that the vaccine "obviously" didn't work as evidenced by some vaccinated people contracting measles during the Disneyland epidemic. But those numbers are very small compared to the unvaccinated cases. If the vaccine didn't work, the number of vaccinated people contracting measles would have been huge, considering most people are vaccinated (thank goodness).

And this doesn't even take into account people who are immune compromised who cannot be vaccinated. They are put at a higher risk of contraction when diseases which were previously non-existent resurge.

Like this comment
Posted by Fox News???
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:02 pm

@38year resident, to answer your question directed to me, the reason why I am concerned is that some health officials have said the vaccine can wear off and older people be affected (horribly) by measles. I didn't comment in the context specifically of having vaccinated children myself and being annoyed at others not vaccinating their own children - you seem to have misunderstood me. It appears from some recent statements in the news media, though, to be an overall public health issue, not only that risks, however small, appear to remain for some young vaccinated kids (who may not have had the full course of MMR or it may not have successfully "taken") as well as older persons out in the general public.

2 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:34 pm

The anti-vax comments I this thread should be deleted, and the personal belief exemption needs to be eradicated. People who purposely spread HIV have been prosecuted. Why not anti-vaxxers when they or their kid infect someone?

Trying to normalize preventable diseases which can easily do orrnenent harm, or kill, is amoral.

Like this comment
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:42 pm

To Fox News??? I was replying generally and asking the question generally. Your point is well taken.

5 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:03 pm

My Choice - Guillen-Barre isn't caused by vaccines. Of course it's your choice to remain wrongly informed, but if it's your choice to put others in danger, your chickens will come home to roost.

I wonder how the county's first flu death victim of the year felt when they first came down with what's considered a "normal" disease? Were they scared of dying?

I hope the Marin County father prevails and that kids who put other kids at serious risk for disease are banned from school. Now how do we get the anti-vaxxers banned from other areas of public life?

Like this comment
Posted by Minnie Ha-Ha
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by my choice
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 30, 2015 at 5:54 pm

@Memories- [Portion removed.]

Please remember that those who choose not to vaccinate make that choice based on factual information supporting the contention that vaccinations can be dangerous to their children's health (remember, these are educated people choosing not to vaccinate). Personally, I would love for my children to have had the opportunity to contract measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. Then they'd have lifetime immunity and wouldn't have to worry about getting those diseases while pregnant or adults. However since the pharmaceutical companies have semi-eradicated the disease, kids don't have the opportunity to contract it anymore and acquire the immunity. And that's why adults in the future will be at risk.

Your idea that no person should be allowed to walk the earth without being vaccinated is rather impractical. With that attitude no foreign person could enter the country nor could you leave the country without the possibility of being exposed to this HORRIBLE (gasp!) disease of measles that almost every adult over the age of 50 has easily survived.

Guillain-Barre can definitely be caused by vaccinations. Ask any person that suffered from that horrible disease (if they survived) right after being immunized. Their doctors tell them not to get flu shots anymore so clearly the medical community dealing with Guillain-Barre sees the connection. Please try to be a little more tolerant of people whose opinions and experiences differ from yours.

1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2015 at 6:04 pm

@my choice -- [Portion removed.]

The whole point about mass vaccination is to prevent the sort of mass contagion that was part of life pre-vaccination -- and that caused untold misery in its wake. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by MD Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:32 pm

MD Mom is a registered user.

The vitriol of the pro-vax folks is astounding and alarming. I assume it comes from fear, which often comes from ignorance. As has been noted, most slow/no-vaxers are intelligent, educated people, who have done research, read books and articles, and even talked to doctors. We have made an informed decision about our health and the health of our children. We do not castigate you for your choices, as you castigate us. But how many of you have really studied the issue with an open mind, and looked into the history, the science, the economics, and the social politics of vaccination? Until you do some research, please feel free to make your own decisions, but let us be free to make ours.

3 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Sandy is a registered user.

It's interesting to hear the pro-vaxxers running on about how it's incumbent upon others to vaccinate their children in order to protect those who are immunosuppressed, unprotected by their own vaccines or unvaccinated. Those unprotected children are just as likely to contract (and die from) the flu or a myriad of other diseases. If it's important to protect your child from the measles then vaccinate your child. If you're afraid that your child is part of the 1-3% for whom the vaccine hasn't worked then have your child titered and revaccinated if necessary. If your child is immunosuppressed or unvaccinated then keep your child away from other kids or give him a mask. You can't prevent all germs from entering your child's space. This is not Ebola that we're talking about. Measles is a pretty benign disease. In developed countries if a healthy kid dies from measles it's a fluke.

The fear mongering surrounding this issue is downright scary and likely instigated by the pharmaceutical companies profiting from the vaccines. 40 years ago nobody worried about their kids getting measles. Everybody got it and it was considered a normal part of childhood (and desired because contracting it as a child provided lifelong immunity so one didn't have to worry about getting it as as an adult or while pregnant). Apparently the pharmaceutical companies decided they wanted to eradicate this benign childhood disease (along with mumps and chicken pox, other benign diseases) so created fear of the disease amongst the masses. Now the media (and apparently even some physicians) would lead you to believe that your child might die if they contract it. It's an economic and political stunt. To understand it just follow the money...

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