The Download: Immunization exemptions

Whooping cough, an infectious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing, used to be one of the most common childhood diseases in the United States and a major cause of childhood deaths. Then a vaccine was developed and the disease became something of an oddity. But not in California.

The Left Coast state is coping with an epidemic of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. Through Nov. 30, according to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 7,297 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of whooping cough, the most in 63 years. Ten deaths have been reported, nine of them infants who were generally too young to be immunized.

Jessica B. Mulholland, writing in Governing magazine, says California is most likely facing an epidemic because of policies that make it very easy for parents to exempt their children from receiving a vaccination for personal or religious reasons. Citing a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Mulholland says it’s easier to claim an exemption in California than it is to complete the immunization form.

Overall, the rate for personal belief exemptions at California’s 7,200 schools is about 2 percent, but at 175 schools the rate was 20 percent or more. A few schools had rates of more than 70 percent.

Colorado is another state that makes it easy for parents to exempt their children from vaccinations. From July 1 through Nov. 13 of this year, 229 whooping cough cases were reported, almost triple the average number for that time period.

While both California and Colorado have seen sharp spikes in whooping cough cases, Mulholland suggests Colorado has fared better because of state programs focused on vaccinating health care workers, new parents, and people who work with small children, effectively creating a circle of protection around unprotected infants and children.

Massachusetts parents can claim immunization exemptions, but they have to state in writing that it conflicts with their “sincere religious beliefs.” It doesn’t seem to be a major issue in Massachusetts and the number of cases of whooping cough here doesn’t appear to be spiking. I could find no stats on the Department of Public Health’s website.

Against the backdrop of rising concern about whooping cough in some states, the US Supreme Court is reviewing a case brought by Pittsburg parents who are suing the drug maker Wyeth. The parents allege a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine their daughter received in April 1992 caused her to suffer seizures which still plague her today.

                                                                                                                                                                                                –BRUCE MOHL

EDUCATION

The Lowell Sun reports that a survey indicates more than 100 Chelmsford High School seniors attempted suicide last year. School officials say the suicide attempts are linked to bullying.

Parents in North Andover give a thumbs down to the school superintendent’s proposal for later start times, reports the Eagle-Tribune.

Out-of-state enrollment at UMass Amherst has jumped 37 percent in the past year, as the flagship university focuses on fattening its tuition revenues.

A Middleboro school bus driver is suing First Student Inc., one of the nation’s largest school bus contractors, for retaliating against her after she reported a student had confided possible abuse at home to her, the Brockton Enterprise reports. Coleen Anderson, a bus driver for 25 years, says the child is related to a First Student supervisor.

After nearly a year of internecine battles and the resignation of seven members in protest, the constantly embattled Quincy College Board of Governors tapped their former chairman as the school’s new president, the Patriot Ledger reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/SAFETY

Overturning an arbitrator’s decision, a judge saying two jail guards who allowed racist Internet postings can be fired, the Salem News reports.

The Globe reports that a preliminary analysis suggests a new outreach program aimed at gang members in Boston has helped reduce gang violence – even though the city’s homicide rate has increased markedly.  Meanwhile, NPR reports on anti-gang strategies taking hold in Chicago that are modeled on an approach developed in Boston during the 1990s, when the city was a national model for reducing youth and gang violence.

PROBATION

Gov. Deval Patrick continues to make the case for moving the state’s troubled Probation Department into the executive branch, the Globe reports.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray didn’t show up in the recent independent counsel report on the patronage hiring in the Probation Department, but perhaps he should have, reports CommonWealth’s Bruce Mohl.

New Republican legislators are pushing for hiring reform across all of state government and not just in probation, WBUR reports.

HEALTH CARE

Medical groups, at a hearing in Shrewsbury, tell state officials to tread cautiously in trying to reform the health care payment system, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports.

On his “Running a Hospital” blog, Paul Levy can’t wait for the new mandated all-payer database the state will aggregate and make public in the coming months, calling it the best chance to dismantle the current “perverse” system that allows higher-priced facilities to dominate market share.

BUSINESS/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Nick Paleologos is out as the state’s film production czar. Economic development chief Greg Bialecki blames the budget, but he also doesn’t rule out naming a replacement.

The Globe says panic among Boston money market firms during the fiscal crisis in 2008 was much greater than previously reported.

Matching up public aid with private investment dollars to get development projects going isn’t always easy, CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow explains in today’s Globe.

POLITICS

Democratic analyst George Bachrach and Republican Rob Eno discuss the politics of tax cuts, unemployment benefits, and Mitt Romney vs. Sarah Palin on Jim Braude’s Broadside show.

The Sun Chronicle spotlights the effort to draft Vicki Kennedy for Senate, while Gov. Deval Patrick sees a crowded field assembling to challenge Scott Brown in 2012.

Will felonious soon-to-be-former city councilor Chuck Turner and his supporters try to make Boston’s two young minority city councilors, Felix Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley, pay for Turner’s misdeeds?  CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas sees that unseemly scenario unfolding.

Accidental Governor’s Councilor-elect Charles Cipollini wants the panel to delay its decision on the nomination of Justice Roderick Ireland to be chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court until Cipollini and two other new GOP members take their seats next month.

WASHINGTON

Jay Cost asks in The Weekly Standard blog “What’s Scott Brown’s secret?” in the wake of a poll showing he beats all comers if the election were held today. Cost has no answers but wants to find it, bottle it, and pass it around to other conservatives in blue and purple states.

President Obama tries again to tie the Bush tax cuts to unemployment benefits, but it’s unclear how much leverage he has in the matter.

Charles Rangel becomes the 23rd congressman to be formally censured.

Even before he’s sworn in for his latest term, US Rep. John Olver announces he plans to run for re-election for his first Congressional District seat in 2012.

Mining billboards for clues about Vicki Kennedy’s interest in taking on Scott Brown in 2012.

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