Sonoma County physicians draft public health message urging vaccination of children
Each morning, Santa Rosa pediatrician Brian Prystowsky checks the number of measles cases in the U.S. as part of his daily routine. As of Friday, there were 764 confirmed instances, 60 more since the end of April.
As the number of children contracting measles grows nationwide and in California, so does Prystowsky’s fear that an outbreak soon will occur in Sonoma County. The west county, where there are two schools that last year were among the top 10 in the state with the highest rate of unvaccinated kindergarten students, is more vulnerable to an outbreak, he said.
“I think in the ’90s was the last time where there was this many kids with measles,” said the pediatrician who has worked for Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation since 2017.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there has not been an outbreak this extensive since 1994, and that half of all reported cases so far in 2019 are children under age 5. “The count that the CDC is doing every few days is just so scary compared to all previous years,” he said.
The alarming risk to the local community prompted the pediatrician to help lead a group of over 200 medical professionals to take the unprecented step of launching a grassroots public health campaign to urge parents to have their children vaccinated and educate them on the ramifications of rejecting immunizations.
“We, the physicians and health care professionals of Sonoma County, agree that vaccines are not only safe and effective, but critical to protecting individuals and our community from serious life-threatening infectious diseases,” according to the public health statement written by Prystowsky on behalf of the group of mainly county physicians. “The best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community is to get vaccinated.”
Although county health department officials have been spreading the word about the importance of immunizing children, the doctors still felt compelled to play a key role in vaccination education, the pediatrician said.
To reach a broad audience and promote a sense of urgency, the group of medical professionals paid for a half-page advertisement in Sunday’s Press Democrat touting their public health message on vaccinations.
“We have to address this public health crisis locally and reach out to educate our patients more deliberately so they know the consequences of their decisions,” said Dr. Patricia May, the president of the Sonoma County Medical Association and one of the doctors who endorsed the public health message. She has worked as assistant chief of surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa since 2012 and has 22 years of surgical experience.
Although no cases of measles have been reported in Sonoma County, so far in 2019 California is experiencing a measles outbreak with 40 confirmed cases as of Saturday, according to the CDC. It is one of six states with ongoing outbreaks.
The physicians’ public health advocacy has spread across the North Bay, as well as in Sacramento, where a group of doctors from Sonoma County recently traveled to urge state leaders to pay more attention to concerns stemming from medical vaccination exemptions that have skyrocketed here, Prystowsky said.
The state’s first vaccination law, enacted in 2015 based on legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, barred personal and religious belief exemptions. But this has led to a spike in what some doctors are calling fake medical exemptions.