Fewer than 90 percent of Galt’s River Oaks Elementary School 76 students who entered kindergarten last year were up-to-date on their childhood vaccinations, putting them at higher risk of contracting preventable diseases, health professionals claim.
Of those, seven students’ parents signed personal belief exemptions, claiming vaccines are counter to their beliefs, compared to 20 in the entire Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.
Robert Nacario, Galt Joint Union Elementary School District’s director of educational services, said the district does not believe River Oaks’ and the rest of the district’s data represents a large number.
“Parents may request exemptions with no questions asked. However, some do have insurance coverage concerns (or) other financial issues, and some do have personal belief exemptions,” he said. “While those exemptions have increased over time, they appear to be stabilizing.”
There were 14 personal belief exceptions in Galt elementary in 2010-11, 17 in 2011-12 and 20 in the current year, according to Nacario.
The most recent statewide data reported by the CDPH is part of a trend that finds a growing number of parents are opting out of having their children vaccinated.
Personal belief exemption rates vary across the state, including by county. The percentage of students statewide receiving a personal beliefs exemption has increased 0.9 percent in the same time period.
The highest rates are found in a collection of Northern California counties: Alpine, Calaveras, Del Norte, Humboldt, Mariposa, Siskiyou and Tuolomne counties all have PBE rates between 10.5 and 12.5 percent. Trinity County’s rate is 15.9, while Nevada County’s rate is 22.4, but both these counties have only a few hundred students in school, so it would take just a few children with PBEs to skew the rate.
Sacramento County’s is 4.3 percent, compared to just 1 percent in San Joaquin County.
In Lodi and nearby rural communities, schools with the highest rate of unvaccinated kindergartners were Lockeford Elementary (47 out of 51 students, or 92 percent), Nichols and Vinewood (both with 96 percent, or 55 out of 57 and 65 out of 68, respectively). Of those, a total of five parents signed the PBE documentation, according to the CDPH.
Health professionals encourage parents to stay up to date with vaccines, unless there is a medical reason. They can guard against 14 diseases than can be common in other countries, according to the San Joaquin County Public Health Department.
“Immunizations are a safe and effective way to help our kids stay healthy in school and protect them from vaccine-preventable illnesses that can be very serious and have lifelong consequences,” Dr. Ron Chapman, of the California Department of Public Health, said in a press release.
Some parents have opted out of vaccinations due to a belief that they are linked to autism, although multiple studies have debunked any link. Others have focused on an supposed connection between autism and thimerosal, a preservative that was commonly used in vaccines up until 10 years ago.
Legislation authored by Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, that goes into effect Jan. 1 requires parents who exempt a child from school vaccinations have a signed waiver from a doctor that shows they have talked with a licensed health care practitioner about the impacts the exemption has on the health of their family and community.
“When parents send their children to school or child care, they want their children and families to be safe and healthy,” Pan said when the legislation was being debated. “Parents are rightly concerned when they learn of a contagious disease at school, whether it is pink eye, head lice, or a life-threatening disease such as meningitis.”
Since 1962, California has required certain vaccinations for incoming kindergartners.
Schools are required to verify each child’s immunization record to ensure all shots and boosters are completed before entry to kindergarten. The required vaccinations are: five for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); four for polio; three for hepatitis B; two for measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); and one for varicella (chickenpox). Kindergarten boosters for DTaP, polio and MMR are given at 4 or 5 years of age.
To view each school’s compliance rates, go to www.tinyurl.com/koo5rz2.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.