It's hard to believe that in the year 2014 we are still debating what most scientists believe to be fairly straightforward, research-proved facts. Yet, that is exactly the name of the game when it comes to critics of child vaccinations. While Jenny McCarthy was an excellent and deserving scapegoat for awhile, we can now shift our focus, just ever so slightly, to a group of people who are are shunning child immunizations and putting scores of children in danger: the Hollywood elite.
The Hollywood Reporter's Gary Baum dives extensively into this world of middle to upper-middle class parents primarily on the westside of Los Angeles—where much of Hollywood's power circle resides— and their refusal to vaccinate their children.
In "Hollywood's Vaccine Wars: L.A.'s "Entitled" Westsiders Behind City's Epidemic," Baum focuses on a rise in the number of cases of whooping cough and the measles in the area.
An examination byThe Hollywood Reporter of immunization records submitted to the state by educational facilities suggests that wealthy Westside kids — particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens — are far more likely to get sick (and potentially infect their siblings and playmates) than other kids in L.A.
Parents are able to exercise this refusal of immunization through PBE—personal belief exemption—forms. The Hollywood Reporter found that in some schools, the rates of PBEs have reached as high as 68%—numbers that fall in line with the immunization rates in developing countries like Chad.
Doctors in the area are understandably concerned and cite the concept of herd immunity as a core reason why vaccinations are necessary.
Underlying the revision of this schedule is a concept known as herd immunity, in which a community is protected against contagion if enough people have been vaccinated. The CDC indicates that herd immunity begins to be seriously compromised for whooping cough and measles when 6 percent or more of the population isn't properly immunized. And that's exactly what's happening on the Westside.
The interesting question is why? Vaccines may be expensive but it's not like these people cannot afford them. And many of these parents are aware of and understand the concept of herd immunity and have access to some of the nation's finest doctors
Some, like Mark Largent, Ph.D., a historian at Michigan State University and the author of Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America, are chalking it up to the fact that most parents don't give a damn about anyone but their own child.
Largent observes that herd immunity isn't a convincing argument in modern societies like the Westside. "For [these people], what you're saying is that the public good is more important than their child's well-being," he says. "I don't think parents give a shit. It doesn't work for them. It's such a big, amorphous claim."
Another argument is that this specific group of people—the wealthy and the educated—are simply not used to being told "no" and are much more comfortable confronting their medical providers. They believe they have done their research and are then able to go toe-to-toe with their pediatricians in a discussion.
Of course, much of it can be boiled down to plain old entitlement—the notion that since they're the ones paying, they should be able to call the shots.
It's a sense of entitlement and it comes out of a customer mentality since they are often choosing their doctor and paying cash," says Dr. Nina Shapiro, the director of pediatric otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat conditions) at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine and a vocal critic of anti-vaccine sentiment.
In what should be obvious to anyone with a cursory understand of how diseases spread and thrive, many doctors in the area worry that the decrease in vaccinations will lead to children dying from preventable diseases like the measles and even an eventual rise in the infant mortality rate.
Say Brentwood pediatrician, Dr. Robert Landaw:
"All it takes is one bad epidemic and 90 percent [of skeptics] will change their mind." Shapiro concurs. "A baby dies of whooping cough in the Palisades?" she says. "Let me tell you, everyone will be immunized. No question."
Image via Jovan Mandic/Shutterstock.