California: School-age children on wait list for measles shots

California children under five will now have to wait until the last week of April instead of March to be vaccinated against a disease once thought to be rare in the Golden State.

State officials last week extended the length of time a third dose of measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, immunization will now take place for anyone ages 12 to 17. That means children under five are unlikely to receive the vaccination at all, much less become fully immunized.

To try to stem the spread of measles and to protect even more children from contracting the potentially deadly virus, state officials approved an emergency rule change on Tuesday.

“Thousands of Californians are at risk from this terrible disease, and it only takes one person to bring back the fear and sickness it caused just a few decades ago. This year, 34 cases of measles have been reported,” said Dr. Gary Harker, the deputy director and chief medical officer for the state Department of Public Health.

In 2005, there were fewer than 1,000 measles cases in the United States, down from about 350,000 in 1995, according to the CDC. But in recent years the epidemic has resumed, leading California and other states to start adding a third dose of MMR to its vaccine schedule.

“California’s health plan is sound, our measles case count is insignificant, but we must take all necessary measures to protect children, and prevent the disease from spreading,” said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health.

There have been 25 measles cases reported in California, Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Texas and Virginia so far this year. Five of the 25 children were required to be hospitalized because of the illness.

The Department of Public Health recommends that all children be immunized by 12 to 15 months old and by 4 to 6 years old. The recommendation was in place before Monday, which was the first day of the school year in California.

But vaccine opponents sued the state last week, challenging a new law, AB 465, that allows parents to put their children on a list of “personal belief exemptions” for school. Their suit said parents already have the right to exempt their children under a 1982 law.

A judge will decide if the challenge stands, and the law goes into effect on September 1.

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