Marin pediatrics group takes hard line with vaccination requirement

NOVATO, Calif. (KTVU) -- On Monday, President Obama joined the growing chorus of calls for parents to get the measles vaccine for their children, but a pediatrics group in Marin has been requiring that all of their patients get the measles mumps rubella vaccine or MMR shot for the past two years.

Public health officials and pediatricians encourage vaccinations, but some parents question the safety of vaccines and opt out for fear of negative side effects.

The doctors at Tamalpais Pediatrics put the policy into place two years ago, requiring all their patients to get the MMR shot by age 2.

They decided to put the policy into place when there was concern about a Measles outbreak after the London Olympics. Doctors at the practice said it is just as important to have that policy now, given the current Measles outbreak in California.

As of Monday morning, there were 92 confirmed cases in California, with two of those cases in Marin County. There are six cases in Alameda County and two in Santa Clara County.

James Nielsen, 4, and his sister, Claire, 2, of Novato, came to the pediatric office for their measles booster shots.

They got their first shots when they were 12 months old. This was their second dose.

The Nielsen family is going to Disneyland in a couple of weeks. According to the California Department of Public Health, the amusement park was at the epicenter of the current measles outbreak that started in December.

The CDPH said at least 59 of the 92 current cases are connected to the park.

"It's super scary," said their mother, Mimi Nielsen. "It's airborne, it's on surfaces. You want your kids to be as protected as possible."

The doctors at Tamalpais Pediatrics said they wanted their patients to be as protected as possible from the measles, which is why they instituted their policy for the MMR vaccine in 2012

"Our policy is children should have the vaccine by age 2, and if not, they have to find another pediatrician," Branco said.

Get the measles shot - or go somewhere else. It's a hard line position that goes against the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations.

But Branco said the health of kids who can't get the vaccine, convinced him and the other doctors at the practice to enact the policy.

"In our practice we have lots of kids who are susceptible to measles," Branco explained. "We have infants who are under a year old and can't be vaccinated. We have children who have arthritis and are on immune-suppressant medication."

Branco said of the 8,000 patients they had prior to enacting the policy, only about 50 who were eligible for the MMR vaccine resisted getting the shot. After the policy went into effect, Branco said the parents of all but about five of those 50 patients agreed to have their children vaccinated.

Marin County has one of the highest rates of measles vaccine exemptions, called a "personal belief exemption" in the state for kids entering kindergarten. The exemption rate has grown from 1.9 percent in 1999, to its peak of 7.8 percent in 2012. The rate has declined by about a percentage point in the last two years.

"Measles is deadly in one in 1,000 children. We know that one in a thousand children who get measles will get brain damage from encephalitis," Braco said. "It's a miserable, preventable illness."

Dr. Branco says his office has received hundreds of calls from parents in the past couple weeks... Wanting to make sure their children are up to date on their measles vaccine and their booster...

Branco usually recommends his patients get the measles vaccine at 15 months, but because of the recent outbreak, staff members at his office have been calling patients to encourage them to bring their toddlers in earlier.

"We felt that those children that could get the MMR at 12 months, needed to come in and get protected given the fact there are cases of measles in our county," Branco said.

The latest confirmed case of measles was reported this morning out of Santa Monica. The patient is an infant, under the age of one, who was too young to get the vaccine.