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Apr 29, 2014 7:45 PM by Kathy Kuretich

KSBY Investigates: High rates of unvaccinated children in San Luis Obispo County Part One

It's a growing trend in our state.

The number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children has increased, every year, over the past five years according to the latest study published by the California Department of Public Health. Some say we're heading down a dangerous path, while others believe vaccines just aren't safe.

It's a sensitive and personal topic. On both sides of the vax debate parents feel they're making the best decision for their children. In researching vaccines, the information can be overwhelming for parents, and the internet is flooded with misinformation. We set out to find the facts. Here's what we found.

A perfect baby born into the world. Parents will go to no end to protect their child. One of the first major decisions they will make surrounds vaccines, and the schedule of multiple shots and immunizations can be confusing and scary.

"It's a needle and you're putting a needle into your perfect baby's chunky thighs and that's really hard for a new parent," said Pediatrician Dr. Natasha Raja.

And studies show, more California parents are opting out of some or all childhood vaccinations. A breakdown of Central Coast numbers reveals 8.26 percent of kindergartners in San Luis Obispo County were not vaccinated, this year, because of personal beliefs. That's more than double the state rate of 3.15 percent. Santa Barbara County comes in at 4.72 percent.

San Luis Obispo County health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said the numbers are alarming.

"We are concerned that we are just biding our time because we do have a high rate of number of unvaccinated children in our county."

Many doctors say diseases like whooping cough and measles are making a comeback due to declining vaccination rates. The pool is greater for disease to spread when brought in from other countries.

"Measles had basically been eliminated," said Dr. Borenstein.

In California, measles rates are at a 14 year-high and doctors like Dr. Raja author of "Parenting, MD: Guide to Baby's First Year" are concerned.

"If there was 10 people near someone who had active measles, nine of those ten people would get measles. 90 percent of those people. It is so incredible contagious and a quarter of those people would be hospitalized."

According to the Department of Public Health, 58 cases have been reported in California so far this year. Last year, there were only 4. While not all cases are linked to unvaccinated children... in 2013, 82 percent of people with measles in the United States were unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

"As a pediatrician, I don't fear the vaccines. I fear the diseases," said Dr. Raja.

One of out every 20 children with measles will develop pneumonia and one or two out 1000 will die, according to the CDC.

For whooping cough, the numbers are far worse. In 2010, more than 9000 people caught whooping cough in California. 10 babies died. It was the worst outbreak in 60 years.

Shane Ellison, father of three unvaccinated children and author of "Over the Counter Natural Cures" believes natural immunity works. He has a master's degree in organic chemistry. He said he'd rather take his chances on his children getting the disease than getting vaccinated.

"Emergency room medicine has excelled to the point that many of these diseases in the small chance that your child gets them, can be treated," said Ellison.

Dr. Raja passionately disagrees. She lost a patient, a child to whooping cough.

"The first time that I had to do CPR on a child and I could feel their ribs breaking under my hands. The first time I had to put a breathing tube down a baby's throat. The first time I had to go to a family and say I'm sorry your child died. And it was from a vaccine preventable disease. That's what haunts me," said Dr. Raja.

On January 1 of this year a new California law made it harder for parents to opt out of vaccines for personal beliefs.
The law now requires parents and guardians meet with a health care professional in order to get a vaccine exemption.

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