Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Updated at 5:44 p.m., Feb. 4, 2015

Los Angeles County’s interim health officer urged residents today to ensure they are vaccinated for measles, and assured parents that vaccinating their children is safe.

“Unfortunately the myths about the association between vaccination and autism persists,” Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser said. “It’s very important for people to know that there have been many scientific studies since that have completely shown that there is no association between autism and vaccinations.”

As of today, California had 99 confirmed cases of measles, according to the state Department of Public Health. Those numbers, however, cited only 17 cases in Los Angeles County. Gunzenhauser told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday there were 21 cases in the county.

The state figures also cite two cases in Long Beach and three in Pasadena. Those cities each have their own health departments.

There are 31 cases in Orange County, according to Deanne Thompson of the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“To end this outbreak we need to do more and we need help,” Gunzenhauser said. “I encourage everyone to review their vaccination status and if needed to get the vaccine now. Those of you who are in positions to make decisions about vaccine for others, review the scientific evidence, be informed about the outbreak and make a decision that’s based on evidence.”

Gunzenhauser told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday that there is “some hope that we will get ahead of the outbreak in the near future,” citing a smaller number of cases arising from the outbreak’s second and third waves.

But he cautioned that there was “still work to be done” and said it could take weeks or months to be certain that the outbreak was in retreat.

Gunzenhauser said the key to slowing the spread of infection is to shorten the time between when a patient gets a rash and when health officials are notified and can impose quarantines and offer immunizations, he said.

Of L.A. County’s 21 confirmed cases of measles, 17 are linked to the outbreak that began at Disneyland in December, Gunzenhauser said. Nonetheless, the outbreak has had no noticeable effect on Disneyland or other Disney theme parks, according to Walt Disney Chairman & CEO Bob Iger.

“We really have not been able to discern any impact at all from that,” he said Tuesday in an interview on CNBC. “In fact, if you were to look at Disneyland, the quarter that we’re currently in, we’re up from where we were last year in both attendance and in bookings or in reservations…”

Meanwhile in Sacramento, a pair of state senators, including Sen. Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach, said they plan to introduce legislation that would eliminate the ability of parents to receive a “personal belief” exemption from immunizing their children.

“The high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community,” Allen said. “We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy.”

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who is also a pediatrician, said the idea of people not immunizing their children has concerned him “for a long time.”

“I’ve personally witnessed the suffering caused by these preventable diseases and I am very grateful to the many parents that are now speaking up and letting us know that our current laws don’t protect their kids,” Pan said.

Pan authored a law in 2012 requiring parents to speak to a health care practitioner before obtaining a vaccination exemption. According to Pan, the number of parents seeking exemptions dropped by 20 percent when the law took effect.

The effort to eliminate the exemption appeared to gain early support from Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both D-Calif., who sent a letter to California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley asking that the state reconsider its policy on exemptions.

“While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces,” according to the letter. “As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.”

State Sen. Patricia Bates, R-San Juan Capistrano, favors vaccinations and has led efforts to get more children vaccinated, spokesman Ron Ongtoaboc said. The senator, however, wants to study the proposed legislation further before committing any support.

“The senator does support vaccinations. In fact, in the supervisorial district that she represented (in south Orange County) had one of the highest rates in the state” of unvaccinated children, Ongtoaboc said. “So she partnered with health officials to boost vaccinations.”

—City News Service

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