Impatient

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Fewer Southern California parents opting out of vaccination

The decline in Personal Belief Exemptions follows the Jan. 1, 2014 implementation of a law that requires parents to talk with a doctor about the benefits and risks of immunization, and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The decline in Personal Belief Exemptions follows the Jan. 1, 2014 implementation of a law that requires parents to talk with a doctor about the benefits and risks of immunization, and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by El Alvi via Flickr Creative Commons

The number of Southern California parents opting to not vaccinate their children due to their personal beliefs has dropped significantly, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health.

The statistics on immunization for incoming kindergartners in 2014 show that the number of parents filing Personal Belief Exemptions fell 20 percent statewide from the previous school year, according to an analysis by the Sacramento Bee. The number of these exemptions had doubled since 2007, and this was the first drop in at least a decade, according to the newspaper.

In two Southern California counties, the decrease was even more pronounced, according to KPCC's analysis of the state data. Los Angeles County saw a 27 percent decline in the number of children not vaccinated under Personal Belief Exemptions, from 2.2 percent of incoming kindergartners in 2013 to 1.6 percent in 2014.  San Bernardino County saw a 24 percent dip, from nearly 2.8 percent of new kindergartners in 2013 to 2.1 percent this year.

At 3.6 percent, Orange County had the highest rate of Personal Belief Exemptions in the Los Angeles area in 2013. This year, Orange County's rate fell 18 percent, to just under 3 percent. Ventura County had a more modest 10 percent decline, from 3.3 percent last year to 3 percent this year.

You can check the immunization rate for this year's class of incoming kindergartners at your school here.

Public health officials say it's important to keep the number of unvaccinated children as small as possible, because of the desire to achieve herd immunity. That occurs when a large enough portion of a community is vaccinated, thus protecting more members of that community from the spread of contagious diseases. The threshold needed to reach herd immunity varies from as low as 75 percent - when it comes to protecting against less contagious diseases such as mumps - to as high as 95 percent, when trying to protect against highly contagious diseases such as pertussis and measles. 

It's unclear what is behind this year's decline in the number of parents forgoing vaccinations for their kindergartners.  Several factors could be at play.

The declines follow the Jan. 1, 2014 implementation of AB 2109, which was intended to boost vaccination rates. The law requires parents to talk with a doctor about the benefits and risks of immunization, and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases, before filing a Personal Belief Exemption form. Both a parent and a doctor must sign the form before it’s submitted.

In addition, California experienced epidemic levels of measles earlier this year, and is in the midst of the worst pertussis outbreak in nearly 70 years. And there has been intense media scrutiny of Southern California’s anti-vaccination movement.

What are the vaccination rates and trends at your neighborhood school? To find out, search KPCC's kindergarten immunization database, which includes schools in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties.

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