Marin Independent Journal

Marin kindergarten vaccination rates hit 17-year high

April 12, 2017

By Adrian Rodriguez

Kindergarten vaccination rates in Marin County rose to their highest level in 17 years, thanks in part to a controversial 2015 state law that made it tougher for parents to opt out of immunizing their kids, health officials said.

The data released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health showed that vaccination rates among California kindergartners are at their highest point since 2001. The period 2000-01 was the first school year that the state reliably measured vaccination rates. The percentage of students attending kindergarten who received all required vaccines rose from 93 percent last school year to 96 percent this year, health officials said.

 

In Marin, the percentage of students attending kindergarten who had received all required vaccines increased from 88.5 percent last year to 93.2 percent this year. That’s a far cry from the 2011-12 school year, when the Marin immunization rate was at a 77.9 percent low.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working with schools and families across the county to increase rates in the community,” said Lisa Santora, Marin County’s deputy public health officer. “From a public health perspective, this is a success: students are vaccinated to offer protection to those who can’t for medical reasons.”

 

Officials attributed the improvement in kindergarten vaccination rates in part to Senate Bill 277, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015.

The law eliminates all non-medical exemptions to vaccine requirements for enrolling in public or private elementary and secondary school. The law passed after an outbreak of measles at Disneyland that also resulted in two Marin children contracting the disease. They were the first measles cases in Marin since 2001.

For years, Marin County had a reputation of being against vaccinations. That changed when Corte Madera resident Carl Krawitt crusaded to ban unvaccinated children from schools when his young son, Rhett Krawitt, a leukemia survivor, was vulnerable to catching measles because his immune system was compromised and he couldn’t be vaccinated.

 

“This is proof that public health policy has and can have a positive effect,” Krawitt said of the high vaccination rates. “It has and will save millions of lives.”

Marin Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke agreed.

“Our public health department, they got out in front of this public issue to help our community to understand why it was so important that kids were immunized,” she said. “We hope to see a continued uptick in immunization. It’s a tribute to the whole community.”

Marin did see a 10-fold increase in medical exemptions. The medical exemption rate is up from 0.2 percent last year to 2.1 percent this year.

 

The health department plans to investigate the increase to identify vulnerable areas with lower immunization rates.

Santora said it would be normal for there to be 50 to 100 students each school year who are medically exempt.

Also influencing the soaring vaccination numbers, according to the state:

• Increased public awareness about the importance of immunizations in recent years after highly visible outbreaks.

• Efforts by the state and local public health departments, schools and community organizations to support school immunization requirements.

 

• State audits of local schools in 2016 and 2017 to ensure they were complying with immunization laws.

“I am pleased that this first year of implementation of SB 277 has resulted in the significant rise of the vaccination rate of this year’s kindergarten class,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said in a prepared statement.

Pan, who also is a practicing pediatrician, co-authored the bill along with Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica.

“This success is a first step toward reducing the number of un-immunized people putting our families at-risk for preventable diseases, thereby restoring community immunity throughout our state in the coming years,” Pan said.

 

Allen echoed that sentiment, saying: “It is gratifying to see that in the course of just one school year, more children and the public at large are now more fully protected from preventable diseases.”

State public health officials cautioned that despite statewide improvements in vaccination rates, schools and communities with low vaccination rates remain at risk for outbreaks.

They said about 18 percent of California schools reported that fewer than 95 percent of their kindergartners have had at least two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

 

In addition, 1 percent of schools reported that fewer than half of their students had received at least two doses of MMR.

Public health experts emphasize that consistent, high immunization rates are needed to prevent the spread of disease and protect the small number of people who cannot receive a vaccination for medical reasons.

The state Department of Public Health said it continues to work with the Department of Education, local health departments, health care providers and schools in California to work toward further increases in vaccination rates.

 

More information is available at shotsforschool.org.