Parents of immunocompromised kids plead with public to get vaccines

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An increase in measles cases in New York is putting a spotlight on children who have compromised immune systems and are at risk because they aren't healthy enough to be vaccinated.

Randi Piburn of Wesley Chapel said her son, Eric was born with two congenital heart defects. Eric has been in and out of the hospital and dealt with more illnesses in his 12 years than most people deal with in their life. 

"Just last year he was diagnosed with primary immune deficiency," Randi said.

Randi tried to vaccinate her son after he was born but his immune system did not properly respond and the vaccines didn't work because.

When Randi sees parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids, it terrifies her. That decision could harm her son.

"For him, it's even more life-threatening by not getting vaccinated or being around someone who isn't vaccinated because if he gets sick, it could kill him," she said. "You talk about the measles or mumps or something like that that's even more deadly than a regular cold or a flu and it would be even that much more complicated to protect him from it."

Eric, like so many others in his position, depends on what's known as herd immunity. Researchers have said when at least 83 percent of the population is vaccinated against preventable diseases such as measles, the chances are drastically lowered for immunocompromised people like Eric to contract a serious illness.

That message, however, has not made it to an increasing number of people.

Following a spike in infection cases, the mayor of New York City is demanding people get vaccinated or face a $1,000 fine. The CDC said travelers to other countries are bringing the disease back and spreading it within unvaccinated communities.

In the Bay Area, for example, there are 2,417 children unvaccinated school-age children in Pinellas County and Hillsborough has 476.

"It's extremely frustrating for us because these individuals don't realize that because of their choice it could kill a child or an adult, because there's lots of other people out there as well, who have an immunocompromised system," Randi said. "It's kind of frightening because you don't know who you're next to."

Doctors have continued to try to push back against a growing anti-vaccination sentiment and misconceptions that vaccines are dangerous.

"It's unfortunate this day and age that we have a way to prevent all these devastating complications from the measles virus and parents, for whatever reason they choose, are not choosing to participate in the herd immunity," said Dr. Michael Patch, a physician with AdventHealth in Tampa. "Sometimes they go to school with other kids whose parents choose not to vaccinate them and therefore they might not know that, the parents might not know that, and they're put in this highly contagious situation."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 465 cases of measles have been reported in 2019; the second highest rate since the disease was wiped out almost 20 years ago.

The Florida Department of Health reported handling 15 cases of measles in 2018, seven of which were in Pinellas County last August. The health department has seen one case so far this year.