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After Vaccines Mandate, a Serious Measles Outbreak

Photograph by Twenty20

Six months ago, the California Assembly passed a law that mandated vaccines for all children. Since December, a Los Angeles neighborhood has been dealing with a pretty serious measles outbreak.

At least 18 people, none able to provide proof of vaccination, have been hit by the highly contagious and very preventable disease—suffering fevers, rash, severe cough, runny nose and watery eyes among other symptoms. The most recent case was reported last week.

This isn't the first outbreak of disease due to high rates of non-vaccination, but the first since the state of California passed a law making it more difficult to opt out of childhood shots. Two years ago, 145 children and adults were part of a nationwide measles outbreak (that reached into Canada and Mexico), which was traced back to Disneyland visits over the Christmas break. That outbreak led to the passage of a law mandating all children be vaccinated unless a doctor provides a medical exemption.

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Of this year's cases, 16 were members of an Orthodox Jewish community near Beverly Hills and knew each other.

The Los Angeles Times talked to Hershy Z. Ten, a rabbi who runs Jewish healthcare foundation in an area hit by the outbreak. Ten organized a panel last week to talk to area Jewish day schools and synagogues about how to keep measles from spreading, including making sure all children are up-to-date on their vaccinations.

The age of this outbreak's victims, young and old but mainly in their 20s, isn't surprising. Officials say checkpoints for the new mandates are public schools, which require students to show proof of vaccinations in kindergarten and again in 7th grade. This means children in 1st grade this year may not be up-to-date on their shots, making them vulnerable if exposed.

What makes the measles virus so pernicious is that it can stay alive for up to two hours after a person infected by the virus leaves the room. And while some parents who oppose vaccines argue it's just another childhood illness that a strong immune system can easily fight, there are actually, on average, 15 deaths every hour around the world from measles, the World Heath Organization reports.

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This year's measles outbreak was easier to track because it occurred among people who shared a social circle. This may also make it easier for it to be contained. This latest case may be the last for awhile.

Parts of West Los Angeles and other areas in Southern California have what epidemiologists think of as low rates of vaccines, ones that aren't high enough to maintain the herd immunity—something the law was supposed to reverse. The state health department reported California's kindergarten vaccination rate at 94.6 percent. Because measles is so contagious, 96 to 99 percent of a group should be vaccinated for it to be prevented.

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