(Reuters) - 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.
Rhett 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 had been receiving treatment for leukemia until his recovery a year ago, may soon be vaccinated, his father said in a phone interview.
California is one of 20 states that allow parents to opt their children out of vaccinations on the basis of their personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California lawmakers are expected to debate a bill this year to end the exemption.
All U.S. states allow exemptions for medical reasons.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh