Parents getting onboard with immunization mandate

Parents getting onboard with immunization mandate

(Calif.) Barely a year after passage of the state’s controversial school immunization law – and still months away from when it becomes operative – the number of kindergarteners entering school fully vaccinated has jumped more than 2 percent or by about 28,000 children.

A new report from the California Department of Public Health shows that almost 80 percent of counties across the state reported an increase in the percentage of fully-vaccinated students, with Alameda County boasting the highest increase of more than 7 percent.

In addition, nearly 93 percent of the 551,123 kindergarten children whose schools reported their status were fully immunized, according to the report.

“Many parents are becoming educated again about the risks of all of these vaccine-preventable infectious diseases,” said Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics specializing in infectious diseases at the Stanford School of Medicine. “I think we will see the rate continue to increase as SB 277 goes into effect.”

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to end personal and religious exemptions from immunization, and to require a physician to declare it unsafe to vaccinate a child based on medical circumstances. Once the law takes effect on July 1, students who are not vaccinated must be home-schooled or participate in public school independent study.

The bill – SB 277 authored by Sen. Richard Pan – was met with passionate opposition from those who argued that the choice to vaccinate a child belongs to parents and that vaccines could be dangerous. Supporters countered that vaccinations are prudent to protect children and other populations too young, old or sick to be immunized.

Even private schools, which have historically had lower immunization rates than public schools, saw a slight increase of more than 1 percent in the number of students vaccinated when compared to last year.

Despite the increase in vaccinated kindergarteners, authors of the health department report warn that a number of schools and communities remain at risk of contagion because fewer than 90 percent of their youngest students are fully immunized.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 90 percent vaccination rate is a benchmark needed to keep diseases such as measles and whooping cough from spreading. Failing to achieve that threshold could lead to instances like the one in 2014 when a measles outbreak started at the Disneyland Resort in Orange County, public health officials warned during the SB 277 debate.

California became one of only three states requiring a doctor to declare a vaccine exemption, although other states have taken steps to try and address the issue. Last year, similar bills were introduced in states including Texas, Maryland and North Carolina.

In Oregon, legislation was introduced that would require schools to publish immunization rates broken down by disease in order to give parents of children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons a way to judge which schools would be safest for their child to attend.

“There are children who cannot be vaccinated, whether because they are on chemotherapy or have otherwise compromised immune systems,” Maldonado said. “The goal is to get as close to 100 percent among children who can be vaccinated, or get to a point where you can prevent outbreaks by getting the rate of those immunized up above 90 percent.”