A Bad Day at Disneyland
A First-hand Account of a Measles Outbreak
By Dale Dauten, Syndicated Columnist
On the one hand, we have The Happiest Place on Earth.
And, on the other hand, we have “When you’re sad and moping, nothing happens; but when you’re angry, that’s when it happens, when you make a difference.”
Today we meet Ariel Loop, who took her baby to Disneyland and brought him home with the measles. That was back in 2014-15, the much-publicized Disneyland outbreak. Since then, Ariel, who is an RN, has become an accidental spokesperson for vaccinations and for legislation to reduce exemptions. (Why “accidental spokesperson?” She posted photos of her son with measles online, a reporter found her, and she’s been part of the national conversation ever since.)
The photo below is from the day Ariel and her husband, Chris, took baby Mobius for his first visit to Disneyland.
Ariel knows that there are parents who question taking a 4-month old baby to Disneyland, but Ariel and Chris live in the Los Angeles area and hold season passes. In fact, the couple are such regulars at the park that they got married there and announced the pregnancy from there. As for Mobius, Ariel recalled that “He loved the lights and the sounds. He really enjoyed it.”
However, she added this: “There’s always that mom-guilt. Should I not have taken him? But unless you keep them in a bubble for a year till the MMR, they are going to be exposed. I was over-the-top caring for him, and we made sure to keep him home until after his second round of vaccines and didn’t take him to Disney till two weeks after that. There wasn’t much more we could have done. So we have to count on herd immunity.”
We’ll share Mobius’s measles story here shortly, but for those for those of you in a hurry, let’s first discuss what she has learned about dealing with anti-vaxxers and, much more importantly, with vaccine hesitant parents.
HOW TO WORK WITH VACCINE-HESITANT PARENTS?
When we spoke with Ariel last month she had just given a speech to Residents at a Los Angeles hospital. Ever since her son’s measles, Ariel has been speaking publicly about vaccines, and has ended-up with plenty of opportunities for one-on-one discussions with parents. Ariel told us, “I’ll get a call and it’s ‘My cousin’s having a baby and she’s scared about the vaccines, would you talk to her?’” And over many such conversations, Ariel has developed a strategy for persuasion:
“Parents with concerns don’t feel seen or heard by their doctors. They feel pushed out – a doctor hears a patient question vaccinations and thinks, ‘Oh no, an anti-vaxxer’ and just moves on to avoid a debate. So the parent doesn’t feel heard. Most parents aren’t anti-vaccine, they’re just scared. When I meet someone like that, I ask, ‘What are you afraid of?’ And then I talk about the resources available, and I tell them, ‘Let’s get answers together.’”
As mentioned earlier, I spoke with Ariel after she’d given a talk with hospital Residents. “One told us an anecdote,” Ariel recounted. “He’s a second-year Resident who’d recently tried combatting fear with compassion. A young mother was worried about giving her children flu shots and he said, ‘I’ve been taking care of your kids for a year now. I’d be really hurt if one of them got admitted to the hospital with flu.’ That’s all it took.’”
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH RADICAL ANTI-VAXXERS?
Ariel is happy to take time with nervous parents, but she’s developed a rule for dealing with radical anti-vaxxers: Don’t.
There was a time when she’d try to reason with them, but it never worked. She’s had “horrible things” yelled at her during her work on new legislation in California, and she recalled the time when an activist threw blood on the Senate floor. “Those are the ones who get coverage,” she said, “and you can fight all day long with them and never get anything done. I don’t focus on them. I focus on scared parents.”
THE TRIP TO DISNEYLAND
Young Mobius got his first Disneyland visit and then two weeks later – it was a Super Bowl Sunday, Ariel recalled — she touched him and knew instantly that he had a fever. Then, she noticed the spots on his chest and remembered hearing about measles on the news. Her reaction? “There’s no way. No. Not possible.” (As we mentioned, Ariel is an RN, but noted, “We didn’t learn about things like measles or polio – we just don’t see it.”)
However, when she couldn’t get Mobius’s temperature below 101, she called the pediatrician’s office. They told her not to come to the office but to go to the hospital. Ariel called the ER to let them know they were coming. They told her to call from the parking lot, where they met her at a back door, “haz-matted” up, and took Mobius to a negative-pressure room (designed to prevent air from escaping). “They were serious, and they were kind,” she remembers, “but nobody thought it was measles because nobody had ever seen it.
It took four days for a blood test to confirm the measles fears. Ariel recounted that Mobius not only developed spots but “coughed for weeks – he had a terrible cough like a long-time smoker.”
The good news is that he recovered and is now five years old, healthy and happy and a frequent Disneyland guest.
And that brings us full circle, back to where we started, with Ariel deciding to turn her frustration into a positive emotion and to let her anger fuel her contribution as what we’re calling an “accidental spokesperson.” As she put it, “No one was speaking out who was affected by it. Maybe I should speak out.” We’re glad she did and continues to do so. She summed up her experience as an advocate as, “I keep saying yes.”
Vax Stats of the Month
America’s Military Households: An Immunization Asset?
by Bill Davenhall, Geomedicine Analyst, STC Health Analytics (Bill_Davenhall@stchome.com)
A recent story by the New York Times (NYT) described the surprisingly disproportionate geographical distribution of military (Army) recruits in the United States. The authors state that “more new recruits come from the same small number of counties and are the children of older recruits.” Defense Department statistics claim that in 2019 about 79% of all Army recruits reported having a family member who also served. The map shown in the New York Times report documents the small number of counties, mainly in the deep south and near large military bases, as having higher concentrations of new recruits.
The map below illustrates the estimated national distribution of armed services employment in every county and dramatically reveals that in 2024 an estimated 75% of all persons over 16 years of age employed in the military can be found originating (living) in 3% (95) of the 3,142 counties. Counties with the greatest absolute number of persons employed by the military include San Diego, CA., Honolulu, HI, Onslow, NC, and El Paso, TX. The top five counties in 2024 will include: Chattahoochee County, GA (46%); Pulaski County, South Carolina (26%); Onslow County, North Carolina (23%); Geary County, Kansas (21%); and Vernon County, Louisiana (14%)). You can find a list of the Top 100 counties in 2014 employing people over 16 years of age in the armed services here. (hyperlink to the pdf here).
Having recently engaged in a STChealth-hosted roundtable discussion with a national group of immunization professionals working on programs that would encourage more people to seek immunizations, the New York Times story caught my attention. The story’s authors reported that that the most often cited reason by new Army recruits as to why they enlisted was knowing anyone who served in the military. Since all military personnel are required to receive immunizations regularly, (unless medically exempted), military personnel and their families already know the value of immunizations. If the immunization practices of armed services personal follow similar patterns of the Army recruiting as described in the New York Times report, then we could expect that the top 100 counties would experience higher than expected immunization rates among children and adults.