Measles outbreak spurs new action in California, New Mexico

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 06, 2015 3:47 PM

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - Students at all 10 campuses of the University of California will be required to be screened for tuberculosis and vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella and other diseases under a new health plan set to take effect in 2017, the university said on Friday.

Announcement of the policy change, which goes beyond the hepatitis B shots already required of all 233,000 UC students, comes amid measles outbreaks that have infected more than 100 people in California and over a dozen more in 19 other U.S. states and Mexico since December.

Politicians and education and health officials at the national, state and local levels have found themselves suddenly reacting to the re-emergence of a highly contagious disease that had been declared eliminated as a U.S.-borne virus in 2000, after decades of immunization efforts.

One of New Mexico's largest public school districts, Santa Fe, will start barring unvaccinated students from class unless they have a valid state exemption, the head of the school board said on Friday.

The recent flare-up has spurred legislators in California, Oregon and Washington state to consider laws to make it harder for parents legally to opt out of vaccinating school-aged children. Bills in several other states, including New York, Mississippi and West Virginia, would loosen restrictions.

U.S. congressional leaders and several possible 2016 presidential hopefuls addressed the issue this week, joining a renewed debate over parents' right to forgo inoculation of their children and fears about potential side effects.

The Santa Fe district notified parents this week that any students who lack up-to-date vaccinations or bona fide state waivers for medical or religious grounds will be excluded from class starting on Feb. 17, board President Steven Carrillo said.

The district has not determined how many of its 14,000 students are unvaccinated or already exempted, he said.

The district action comes as New Mexico documented a steady rise in vaccine exemptions during the past two years, up 17 percent from 2012 to 2014 to 3,335 children.

State Health Department spokesman Kenny Vigil said waivers represent less than 1 percent of school-aged children statewide, though the department has voiced concern over the trend.

Just one measles case has been confirmed in New Mexico this winter, an unvaccinated baby who was hospitalized in December and has since recovered, Vigil said. It was the state's first case since 2012.

The origin of the child's infection is unknown, he said, but the case was unrelated to the California outbreak because its onset in late November predates the first Disneyland infection.

California public health officials report 103 people have been diagnosed with measles in the state, many linked to exposure to an infected person from outside the country who visited Disneyland in late December.

Under the UC vaccination plan, which the university said has been in the works for a year, all incoming students are expected to be immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, meningococcus, tetanus and whooping cough starting in 2016. But the plan will be strictly enforced starting in the fall of 2017.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler, Dan Grebler and Ken Wills)