California’s kindergarten vaccination rates hit new high – The Mercury News

SACRAMENTO –  A controversial 2015 state law requiring almost all California schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated to attend public or private school — regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs — is a factor behind new numbers released Wednesday by the state showing vaccination rates among kindergartners are at their highest point since 2001.

The data, from the California Department of Public Health, is based on results for the annual immunization assessment of children attending kindergarten in California in the 2016-17 school year.

Compared to 2015-16, the percentage of students attending kindergarten in 2016-17 who had received all required vaccines rose from 93 percent to 96 percent, California public health department officials said.

“I am encouraged to see that California parents are making sure their children get the vaccinations they need,” state public health officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement.

“Many vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, can easily spread in school settings,” Smith said. “Getting all recommended immunizations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to keep our children healthy and in school.”

Officials attributed the improvement in kindergarten vaccination rates to a few reasons, including the impact of Senate Bill 277, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. The law, which kicked into gear for students entering school in 2016-17, made California only one of three states at the time — including Mississippi and West Virginia — that permitted only medical exemptions as legitimate reasons to sidestep vaccinations.

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,” said Pan.

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

The Department encourages parents to speak with their healthcare professionals to make sure children get their vaccinations on time.

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