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Doctor explains why he lets kids avoid the measles vaccine

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Doctor Jay Gordon is a pediatrician in Santa Monica, California. More than half his patients have delayed vaccinating their children for measles or decided not to.

"This measles outbreak does not pose a great risk to a healthy child," said Dr. Gordon. "And quite frankly I don't think it poses any risk to a healthy child."

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Dr. Jay Gordon
CBS News

If somebody with measles walked into Dr. Gordon's office, 90 percent of the unvaccinated people who come in contact with them would get measles. I asked Dr. Gordon to explain how that type of contagion isn't a risk.

"You just said it, they'd get measles," Dr. Gordon replied. "Not meningitis, not the plague, not Ebola, they'd get measles. Measles is almost an always a benign childhood illness."

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CBS News

Dr. Gordon has signed hundreds of "personal belief exemptions," which allow parents to bypass laws requiring vaccinations. I asked him if it's still a personal choice to help bring back a disease that we had largely eradicated from the population.

"Individual parents making that decision are not the ones bringing back measles," answered Dr. Gordon. "Measles isn't coming back. We have 70 cases of measles right now and we have 30 million Californians."

But in 1962 - the year before the measles vaccine - there were 481,530 cases of measles nationwide. It killed 408 people.

The vast majority of doctors support vaccination including Dr. Deborah Lehman at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

"People don't remember children staying in dark rooms because they have measles and the light hurts their eyes and developing brain swelling and serious developmental problems," said Dr. Lehman. "We've given people a false sense of security and it's situations like this, outbreaks like this that really remind us of the importance of these diseases and really the benefit of vaccine."

Many parents who chose not to vaccinate are having a sudden change of heart. Doctor Gordon gave 35 MMR shots Monday, that's more than he gave all of last year.