Rhett Krawitt has been fighting leukemia for most of his life. The 6-year-old boy finished chemotherapy last year and now attends Reed Elementary in Tiburon, California.
Rhett cannot be vaccinated because his immune system is still rebuilding. He’s dependent on the health and immunity of others around him for protection from preventable diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough — what’s known as herd immunity.
The problem is that 7 percent of Rhett’s fellow students at Reed Elementary are not immunized against once-common childhood ailments that could be deadly to someone with a compromised immune system like his.
Rhett's father, Carl, is working to decrease the number of unvaccinated children in his son’s school. "It's very emotional for me," he told KQED. "If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, okay, that's your responsibility, that's your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then ... your action has harmed my child.”
Carl previously worked with the school nurse to make sure everyone in Rhett’s class was vaccinated, but now he and his wife, Jodi, are trying to make vaccination a requirement.
After the couple asked Superintendent Steven Herzog to "require immunization as a condition of attendance, with the only exception being those who cannot medically be vaccinated,” Herzog responded, "We are monitoring the situation closely and will take whatever actions necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”
Though there haven’t been any reported cases of measles in Marin County, the disease has been spreading throughout California since an outbreak at Disneyland.
Contracting measles could have very serious consequences for Rhett.
"When your immune system isn't working as well, it allows many different infections to be worse," Dr. Robert Goldsby, Rhett’s oncologist, said. "It's not just Rhett. There are hundreds of other kids in the Bay Area that are going through cancer therapy, and it's not fair to them. They can't get immunized; they have to rely on their friends and colleagues and community to help protect them.”
Carl will continue to fight for his son’s health. During a parent meeting at his daughter’s school, the staff reminded attendees not to allow their children to bring peanuts to school because at least one child has an allergy. "It's really important your kids don't bring peanuts, because kids can die," Carl recalls the staff member saying.
Carl responded, "In the interest of the health and safety of our children, can we have the assurance that all the kids at our school are immunized?"
He found out later that other parents who were present were upset that he asked the question because they choose not to immunize their kids.