LA Daily Breeze: As school starts, LAUSD officials work to boost vaccination rates

August 16, 2015

With classes starting on Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said immunization rates among incoming students will be high, but preparations are underway to get ready for a stricter state law.

The new law goes into effect next year, but LAUSD officials said they’ll work on training staff to make sure all students have completed their vaccinations on schedule.

Across the district, about 1 percent of all incoming kindergartners go unvaccinated because their parents filed personal belief exemptions, said Dr. Kimberly Uyeda, LAUSD’s director of Student Medical Services. That percentage goes down among incoming seventh-graders.

But there are communities within the district where those personal belief exemptions are higher. At Shirley Elementary School in Reseda, for example, 79 percent of the children were up to date with vaccinations, and at least 3.4 percent had a personal belief exemption during the 2014-15 school year, according to the ShotsforSchool website provided by the California Department of Public Health.

Uyeda said the district has to find an efficient way to make sure students complete the whole vaccination cycle.

“They are conditionally admitted, but that takes manpower and follow up,” she said. “That’s where we really need more vigilant. We have some preparation to do.”

Statewide, about 92 percent of all children have had the measles vaccine by age 3. Nearly 3 percent have chosen to go unvaccinated under California’s personal belief option, according to the public health department.

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown signed one of the nation’s toughest childhood vaccination bills into law, which eliminates the personal belief exemption from school vaccination requirements. However, the law exempts home-schooled and independent study children as well as those with a physician’s consent.

In signing SB 277, California became the third state after West Virginia and Mississippi, to eliminate the personal belief exemption from school vaccination requirements.

An effort by parents who believe they should have the right to decide whether to vaccinate their children is underway to repeal the law.

The bill was crafted in February by Democrats Richard Pan, a pediatrician who represents Sacramento, and Ben Allen, the former president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, who represents much of the Westside and a portion of Torrance.

After a whooping cough epidemic was declared earlier last year, California experienced its worst measles outbreak in 15 years in December that stemmed from an infection at Disneyland. The disease affected more than 130 California residents and dozens more nationwide.

The outbreak cast a spotlight on immunization rates among schoolchildren, and some districts told unvaccinated children to stay home.

“I think it just raised awareness among the school and community of the need to be continually vigilant about vaccine preventative diseases,” Uyeda said. “For measles, it prompted us to be more vigilant of our numbers.”

Parents of LAUSD children who still need to get their children immunized can visit one of several health centers on school campuses, Uyeda said.

Parents also can go to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health to look up the nearest health center.