The Washington Post

California vaccination rate hits new high after tougher immunization law

April 13, 2017
By Lena H. Sun

California's school vaccination rate is at its highest level since 2001 after the state required almost all public school children to get immunizations.

State public health officials released data this week that showed that nearly 96 percent of this year’s kindergartners have received all the required vaccines. That’s a nearly three-point increase over last year, health officials said. The rate is above the level that experts say is needed to prevent measles transmission.

Students entering school in 2016-2017 were the first to be enrolled under a law that abolished the personal-belief exemption to legally required vaccines for school entry. The law was passed after the 2014-2015 measles outbreak in Disneyland.

Compared with the 2015-2016 school year, the proportion of students attending kindergarten in 2016-2017 reported to have received all required vaccines rose from 92.8 percent to 95.6 percent, a 2.8 percentage point increase over one year and a 5.2 percentage point increase over the two years since 2014-2015, according to California health department data. The 2016-2017 rate is the highest reported since the current set of immunization requirements for kindergarten went into effect beginning in the 2001-2002 school year.

Richard Pan, a pediatrician and author of the new legislation, hailed the rise in the kindergarten vaccination rate. “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,” he said.

An increasing number of parents across the United States and in other countries are choosing not to immunize their children because of “personal beliefs.” Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but the highly contagious disease has made a return in recent years largely because of people who reject vaccinating their children.

Vaccination advocates and health officials said that despite improvements, children in California schools and communities with lower rates of vaccine use remain at higher risk of contracting and transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases. Recent changes to California’s school immunization laws did not apply to earlier groups of children who are no longer of school age. Unimmunized older children and adults were among those who caught measles during the Disneyland outbreak.

Earlier this month, an unvaccinated Laguna Beach High School student was quarantined after contracting measles, county health officials said. The school identified six other unvaccinated students who may have been exposed to the virus when the infected student was on campus March 29. All were barred from attending school and have to stay home until April 18, the Orange County Register reported.