Measles outbreak raises debate on vaccinating kids

There are now more than 100 cases of measles in the United States. This outbreak has led to a debate between conventional science and parents who decide not to vaccinate their children for one reason or another.

Vaccinations all but eradicated measles in the U.S. 15 years ago and nearly 95 percent of kindergarten students received MMR vaccination for measles, mumps or rubella last year.

But health officials say the current outbreak traced to California is being spread by children who were not vaccinated against the virus and that has a growing number of families in our area on edge because they say they don't have a choice.

Jasmine Hollingsworth and her husband are the parents of three children -- two of whom have received their measles vaccine. And there is their oldest child, 7-year-old Kai, who can't receive it.

"My daddy donated part of his liver to me and saved my life," Kai told us.

She was a 4-month-old baby days from death when she got her life-saving transplant at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. Years later, the Baltimore girl says she is feeling great.

"I'm super healthy," she said.

Like all transplant patients, Kai takes medicine to suppress her immune system so she doesn't reject her new liver. That means she can't get live virus vaccines like the one for measles because her weakened immune system would cause her to get very sick -- and potentially reject her organ.

So this is causing her mother to keep a super close eye on this growing measles outbreak.

"I'm terrified," she told us.

Jasmine said for families like hers, this doesn't feel like a debate between those who choose to vaccinate and those who don't.

"There is another party of people that are caught in the middle of this and those are people like my child who is immunosuppressed," she said. "Not just transplant patients, but oncology patients, infants, children with immune disorders. They don't have a choice. They can't get vaccinated and they can't fight it off if they come into contact with it."

Pediatrician Ghassan Atiyeh of Childrens Medical Associates of Northern Virginia said this is one of many reasons his practice, which treats tens of thousands of children every year, has made it a policy not to see children whose parents choose not to vaccinate.

"While we respect everyone's viewpoints, we feel very strongly that vaccination is our best effort to protect our kids from many diseases where we have a choice to protect them and we feel a real responsibility for patients that are part of this practice," said Dr. Atiyeh.

But New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's comments regarding vaccinations highlight the disconnect between conventional medical wisdom and parents who decide not to do it.

"I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well," Christie said.

Hollingsworth said the only choice she has is to speak out. She runs a Facebook group for hundreds of other liver families and they are working on ways to spread the message through social media. For children like her daughter, measles would be far more serious than a rash or virus.

"The only weapon I have is my voice," said Jasmine Hollingsworth. "There is nothing else I can do other than try to get the message out there -- inform and educate. There is another party suffering here in the middle.

"These are the kids affected by this -- these are the real people that could very well die if they come into contact with measles."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the first MMR dose be given at 12 to 15 months and the second between the ages of four and six.

Dr. Atiyeh said his practice fielded lots of calls from parents wanting to check to make sure their child is adequately vaccinated. He said that is good news and people are paying attention to this issue.