Health

Anti-Vaccine Movement: More And More American Children Dying Of Preventable Diseases

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

Kathryn Riffenburg had a closed casket funeral for 9-week-old baby Brady Alcaide, who died of whooping cough, because the long-forgotten disease left his body swollen and unrecognizable.

Riffenburg, 31, of Chicopee, Mass., told USA Today she didn’t want anyone to see how whooping cough, or pertussis, ravaged his body. Her infant son died in her arms. She says her fiancé, two daughters, and she all received booster shots for whooping cough, and advises other families to do the same.

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"I hope Brady has saved babies and protected them because we have spread his story," Riffenburg said.

There have been 22 cases of whooping cough in Deschutes County, Ore., this year and health officials are urging parents to vaccinate.

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Other preventable diseases -- like measles and meningitis -- are making a comeback across the U.S. as many parents choose not to inoculate their children.

Jeremiah Mitchell, a 10-year-old boy in Oklahoma, had both of his arms and legs amputated after contracting meningitis. He also lost parts of his eyelids, jaw and ears. He was just six years old when a meningitis outbreak at his Oologah-Talala Public School killed two children and infected five others.

In 12 hours he went from being a healthy child to being in a coma.

"He came out with all his limbs cut off and wrapped up like a mummy — I fainted," his mother Michaela Mitchell told USA Today. "We cried for a long time."

Mitchell says she didn’t know there was a meningitis vaccine and his school didn’t require it. She is now a fulltime caregiver to her son, who's had so many surgeries she has lost count.

California had the highest un-vaccinated child rates in 2013, approximately 14,921 children. There have been 49 cases of measles in the state this year, while it had only four at that time last year. 

The highest rates of unvaccinated children are in some of California’s wealthiest communities.

The cost to public health and to the American taxpayer is insurmountable.

ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Expert Richard Besser told “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Sunday that children should be required to be vaccinated in order to attend public schools.

“If you look at the impacts in public health, there has been nothing that has equalled that of vaccinations,” Besser said, commenting on the measles outbreaks in California. “The problem we have is that the success of vaccination programs means that no one is seeing these diseases, and so they don’t understand that can happen if we move back.”

The overall unvaccinated rate in the greater population is 4.5 percent, but in affluent communities it’s as high as 20 percent.

“That’s a ticking time bomb,” he said. “I think if you want to send your kid to public school, there should be no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

Many pediatricians are banning unvaccinated children from clinics to protect the vulnerable population.

"We don't want to put our patients at risk because people for their own personal reasons don't want to vaccinate," said Anastasia Williams, a managing partner at a Virginia practice who has been a pediatrician for 15 years. "We are doing our due diligence to protect our children who wait in our waiting room."

Sources: USA Today, KTVZ, Mediaite