Opting out of vaccination is ‘recipe for outbreak’

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children due to concerns about side effects can put others at risk -- even those who have been vaccinated. Gwen Ifill talks to Patsy Stinchfield of the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota about the importance and safety of immunization.

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    President Obama echoed the concerns of health officials yesterday when he said in an interview that children should be vaccinated.

    Joining me now is Patricia Stinchfield. She's the director of infection prevention and control for the Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota.

    Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

    How does this outbreak compare to what we have seen in the past? Or should we be really worried by these numbers?

    PATRICIA STINCHFIELD, Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota: I think we should be concerned by these numbers because the spread of measles is so easy to happen amongst people who are un-immunized.

    That virus can stay aloft in the air for two hours after someone with measles has walked through a room, whether it's a lobby in a clinic, or a grocery store or a football game. And anyone who comes through that room who is not immunized will get measles; 90 percent of un-immunized will get measles. It's very contagious.

    I spent my 27-year career at Children's ever since the 1990s measles outbreak trying to explain to people how dangerous measles is. You had an entire ward filled with measles kids, and two of them died. And ever since then, I have tried to commit myself and Children's in Minnesota has as well to the message that measles is dangerous, measles kills.

    It gets in the lungs, it gets in the brain. It is not just a virus. The vaccine is safe, it's effective, it works, and it should be used by parents to help protect their children.


    Is there any other reason to explain the sudden return of measles, other than the fact that people decided that vaccinations are not safe?


    Well, we're a global society. And we do know that measles cases in the United States do have an international link, oftentimes.

    But we also know that, in the last few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in many communities of people opting out of vaccines. This is a recipe for an outbreak. If you have a vulnerable community and you have an introduction of the measles virus, you will have disease.

    And we're seeing that come out of California and spread very quickly through the United States. I think the good news here is that if we didn't have 90 percent of parents following the usual immunization schedule, we wouldn't be talking about 100 cases. We would be talking about thousands and thousands of cases.


    But that is the number that confounds me. If 92, 95 percent of people are getting the vaccination, how much is this — how dangerous is this, except for a small subset who are not?


    Well, we always have vulnerable populations.

    So, you can only get the vaccine when you're 12 months of age and older. That's your first dose. So, lots of babies are under 1 year of age, and that special vulnerable valley is from six months to 12 months, where mom's antibodies have dropped off, they're not old enough yet to get the vaccine. So babies six months to 12 months are especially vulnerable.

    Pregnant women can have severe miscarriages if they get measles. And then of course immune-deficient or those people getting chemotherapy or cancer are very highly at risk for a severe measles case.


    How does this outbreak compare to other ones we have discussed certainly on this program before involving the flu or Ebola?


    Well, they're — Ebola, flu and measles are all viruses. They're all contagious.

    But there is nothing as contagious as measles. It's highly contagious. I would say influenza is next, HIV below that, and Ebola is the lowest in terms of viral contagion. It's very difficult to get Ebola. It's very easy to get measles. Both can take people's lives, however.

    There's a vaccine for measles, measles-mumps-rubella. There is not a vaccine for Ebola. And at this point in time, there's no reason for parents not to vaccinate their children and protect them against measles.


    Are there other diseases where people — where vaccines — or choosing not to have a vaccine has shown that that disease is back or is on the rise?


    We are definitely seeing more whooping cough than we have. There's been spread of whooping cough, or pertussis, throughout the country in the last few years. That vaccine is not quite as effective as measles vaccine, but also the spread is going through communities of those who are opting out of vaccines.

    We are seeing an increase in that as well.


    And finally and briefly, what are the symptoms that we should be on the lookout for when it comes to measles?


    Measles as fever, rash and the three C's. The C's are cough, conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, and then coryza, or runny nose.

    But the rash looks like a bucket of rash that is poured over the head and goes down onto the trunk, and then clears that way. It's a very distinct rash, but only for those of us who have seen it. So, get in and get checked if that's the rash you're seeing.


    Dr. Patricia Stinchfield at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, thank you very much.


    Thanks for having me.

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