LOS ANGELES – The leading U.S. pediatrician group on Friday urged parents, schools and communities to vaccinate children against measles in the face of an outbreak that began at Disneyland in California in December and has spread to more than 50 people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said all children should get the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella between the ages of 12 and 15 months old and again between 4 and 6 years old.
“A family vacation to an amusement park — or a trip to the grocery store, a football game or school — should not result in children becoming sickened by an almost 100 percent preventable disease,” Errol Alden, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
“We are fortunate to have an incredibly effective tool that can prevent our children from suffering. That is so rare in medicine,” Alden said.
The California Department of Public Health has reported 59 confirmed measles cases among state residents since December, most linked to an initial exposure at Disneyland or its adjacent Disney California Adventure Park.
Nine more cases linked to the parks were reported out of state — one in Mexico, three in Utah, two in Washington state and one each in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona.
Officials say the outbreak began when an infected person, likely from out of the country, visited the resort in Anaheim between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20.
Among those infected are at least five Disney employees and a student at Huntington Beach High School, some 15 miles (24 km) from the park. The school has ordered its unvaccinated students to stay home until Jan. 29.
The outbreak has renewed the debate over the so-called anti-vaccination movement in which fears about potential side effects of vaccines, fueled by now-debunked science suggesting a link to autism, have led a small minority of parents to refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated.
The Los Angeles Times blasted the anti-vaccination movement in an editorial last week for what the newspaper called an “ignorant and self-absorbed rejection of science.”
The percentage of children vaccinated for measles in California is slightly below the national average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group calls for “informed consent” for parents regarding vaccinations, said the Disneyland outbreak had touched off a “media frenzy” around the issue.
“I think this discussion has become polarized. There’s a lot of name-calling going on rather than talking about substantive policy issues,” she said.
Homegrown measles, whose symptoms include rash and fever, was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. But health officials say cases imported by travelers from overseas continue to infect unvaccinated U.S. residents. The sometimes deadly viral disease can spread very swiftly among unvaccinated children.
There is no specific treatment for measles and most people recover within a few weeks. But in poor and malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia.