Infectious Diseases

Updated 12 February 2015

Cancer survivor Rhett Krawitt says he gives a damn about measles vaccination

A 7-year-old cancer survivor's speech brought renewed focus on the issue of personal belief exemptions for vaccinations due to the ongoing measles outbreak in the US. Those who refuse to vaccinate their children put everybody else at risk, especially the ill.

A 7-year-old cancer survivor has made a public plea in Northern California for near-universal measles vaccinations, following a rare outbreak of the contagious disease that began in December at the Disneyland resort.

Elementary school student Rhett Krawitt spoke before the board of the Reed Union School District north of San Francisco on Tuesday night, before the panel voted 4-1 to support any statewide effort to eliminate personal belief exemptions for vaccines.

"My name is Rhett and I give a damn," the boy told the school board on Tuesday to audience applause, according to video footage from local television stations.

His speech brought renewed focus on the issue of personal belief exemptions for vaccinations, which has gained national attention due to an ongoing measles outbreak that began at the Disneyland resort in December. So far, more than 100 cases have been confirmed in California with over three dozen elsewhere, many of them linked to the Disneyland outbreak.

Rhett's father Carl Krawitt had previously called on school district officials to bar from attending his son's school students whose parents had voluntarily exempted them from vaccinations, citing concern they could put his son at risk due to weakened immunity that left him unable to be vaccinated.

The school district superintendent said he was prohibited from taking such a step without a change in state law.


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Why is immunisation so important?

The Western Cape Government Department of Health told Health24 that they promote the use of immunisations as this remains the safest and most cost effective method of ensuring that our children remain free of dangerous and debilitating illnesses.   

Children who are in contact with other children at crèches and schools have a higher chance of contracting infectious illnesses, simply because there are more opportunities for germs to move from child to child. Immunising children against illnesses thus prevents groups of children becoming ill. This is known as 'herd immunity'. 

“Herd immunity is real science. It keeps our children from getting sick,” said Rhett’s dad, Karl Krawitt in an interview with CBS San Francisco.

The Western Cape DOH says choosing to vaccinates one’s child will always be the choice of the parent.  However, there is overwhelming evidence world-wide that when more than 94% of a community is immunised against an illness such as measles or polio, there is a good chance that the illness will eventually be eradicated.

An illness is only considered eradicated when there have been no cases reported for a ten year period.

ReadWhy the Disney linked measles outbreak is spreading

7-year-old Rhett Krawitt said that he supported "making everybody get vaccinated unless they are doing chemo like I did" and that if that happens "soon we will say gone with the measles."

The highly infectious disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after decades of intensive childhood vaccine efforts, but since then the number of exposures has crept back up.

Rhett, whose immune system was previously considered too weak for inoculations because he had been receiving treatment for leukemia until his recovery a year ago, may soon be vaccinated, his father said.

California is one of 20 states that allow parents to opt their children out of vaccinations on the basis of their personal beliefs, though California lawmakers are expected to debate a bill this year to end the exemption.

All U.S. states allow exemptions for medical reasons.

Vaccination in South Africa

Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, stated in a press release sent to Health24: ‘Our statistics show that up until 14 weeks of age parents routinely bring their babies to their clinic as prescribed for check-ups and immunisations. After this age, we see a marked decrease in clinic attendance, possibly because moms return to work. This means that baby does not receive the vital follow-up immunisations. 

Vaccination remains the cheapest, most effective manner in which to prevent the spread of dangerous childhood illnesses such as measles, TB and polio. These vaccinations are offered free of charge at all clinics – all that parents have to do is visit their clinic as advised by the health carer.  

Read: Everything you need to know about vaccinations

By the time your baby is 18 months old, he or she should have received vaccination that protects him/her from 10 dangerous childhood illnesses.

Western Cape Government Health has an agreement with Clicks and Dis-chem pharmacies, whereby parents can take their children to these pharmacies for their vaccinations. There is a minimal administrative fee.  Parents can contact their closest Clicks or Dis-Chem for more information on this service. 

Measles also causes a host of complications, such as croup, Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia and, because the immune system is suppressed for some weeks to months afterwards, it is believed that in the South African and other Third World contexts this contributes to flaring up or reappearance of tuberculosis in children as well as herpes of the mouth.

Read more:

Measles cases across the world are at a 20-year high
December 2014: Measles sweeps across SA
Cancer cured by measles vaccine


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