State, county see increase in childhood vaccination rates
The percentage of Yolo County children who entered kindergarten with all required vaccinations increased from 91.7 percent last year to 96.6 percent this year, according to data released Wednesday by the state.
Yolo County’s numbers mirrored the rest of California, which saw the overall kindergarten vaccination rate increase from 92.8 percent of students in the 2015-16 school year to 95.6 percent in the current year.
That statewide rate of 95.6 percent is the highest ever reported for the current kindergarten immunization requirements, which began in the 2001-02 school year.
Likely driving the upward trend was SB 277, a law passed in 2015 that ended the personal-belief exemption for vaccinations. Students entering school in 2016-17 were the first to be subject to the new law.
State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, who co-authored SB 277 with state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, was pleased with the result.
“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,” Allen said.
Pan, a Sacramento pediatrician, praised the result as well.
“This success is a first step toward reducing the number of unimmunized people putting our families at risk for preventable diseases, thereby restoring community immunity throughout our state in the coming years,” Pan said.
In addition to SB 277, the California Department of Public Health also cited state audits of local schools to ensure compliance with immunization laws as a reason for the increased immunization rates.
Public awareness around highly visible disease outbreaks — such as the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in late 2014 — also brought more attention to the importance of immunizations, according to state Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.
Smith said Wednesday she was encouraged by the new data.
“Many vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, can easily spread in school settings. Getting all recommended immunizations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to keep our children healthy and in school,” Smith said.
Concerns remain, however, about children who have not completed the recommended series of vaccinations for a number of diseases.
About 18 percent of California schools, for example, reported that less than 95 percent of their kindergartners have had at least two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Yolo County was better off, with 98 percent of kindergartners having had both MMR doses and at least 97.7 percent having all recommended doses of all other required immunizations.
Yolo County reported data from 34 public schools and 12 private schools — a total of 2,830 kindergartners.
County efforts to ensure that children have all of their vaccinations before school starts paid off, with the total number of conditional entrants (those children not fully up-to-date on their shots) dropping from 128 students last year to 58 students this year.
Meanwhile, eight Yolo County kindergartners received permanent medical exemptions this year, an increase from just one student last year.
But the biggest change came in the area of personal-belief exemptions. Under state law, personal-belief exemptions remain valid only for children who entered multi-year kindergarten programs before 2016 (such as transitional kindergarten) and continued in kindergarten in 2016-17.
No other personal-belief exemptions are allowed.
Thus, Yolo County saw the number of kindergartners with personal-belief exemptions drop from 95 in 2015-16 to just 17 this year. Statewide, the total number of personal-belief exemptions dropped from 13,086 last year to 3,133 this year.
Traditionally, private schools in California — as well as in Yolo County — have seen greater numbers of personal-belief exemptions and lower vaccination rates overall.
The state has not yet released data for individual schools, which will indicate whether that has changed as well. When that data becomes available, it can be found at http://www.shotsforschool.org/k-12/reporting-data.