More California kindergartners are fully immunized than at any time since the current set of immunization requirements began 15 years ago, and that upward trend is continuing in Southern California, according to state data released Wednesday.
For the 2016-17 school year, nearly 96 percent of kindergartners statewide were fully immunized, up from just under 93 percent the previous year, reported the California Department of Public Health. Los Angeles County experienced an even larger jump, from 90 percent in 2015-16 to 95 percent in the current academic year.
In Orange County, nearly 96 percent of kindergartners were fully vaccinated this school year, compared with nearly 93 percent in 2015-16. Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties all saw smaller increases, but they had already achieved 94 or 95 percent coverage in the previous school year.
Public Health credited several factors, including stepped-up outreach and efforts by schools and public health agencies to ensure more kids get vaccinated. In addition, the agency pointed to a state law that took effect in the current school year that prohibits parents from exempting their children from immunizations based on personal or religious beliefs.
"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," said State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), co-author of the law banning the personal belief exemption.
A 95 percent immunization rate is the approximate threshold necessary to prevent the transmission of measles, according to Public Health. It found that the number of counties reporting a rate lower than that for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine went from 31 in 2015-16 to 14 this school year.
"Many vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, can easily spread in school settings," said Public Health Director Dr. Karen Smith. "Getting all recommended immunizations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to keep our children healthy and in school."
The number of "conditional entrants" — children who have not received all of their required shots but aren't overdue — dropped from 4.4 percent statewide in 2015-16 to 1.9 percent this school year. There was an even more precipitous decrease in L.A. County, from 8.2 percent to 2 percent.
The measles outbreak that began at the Disney theme parks in Dec. 2014 and sickened 131 people helped drive support for Pan's legislation. Of those whose vaccination status was known, 56 were not immunized against the disease. Lawmakers approved the bill and Gov. Brown signed it despite fierce protests from parents opposed to vaccination or to the vaccination schedule.
This year's vaccination data include a new category, created by Pan's law: students exempted from immunization because they are home-schooled or enrolled in qualified independent study programs.
Just 301, or 0.2 percent, of L.A. County's 140,000 kindergartners were in the new category, dubbed "lacking required immunizations." Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties each had 0.4 or 0.5 percent in this group, and Ventura County had 0.7 percent.
The numbers don't tell the full story, however, because a lot of schools, particularly private institutions, did not report their vaccination statistics to the state. In L.A. County, 198 of the 685 private schools failed to report, as did 22 of Riverside County's 100 private schools.
Conversely, almost every private school in Orange (212 out of 212), San Bernardino (79 out of 80) and Ventura (57 of 63) counties reported their information to Public Health.
This story has been updated. An earlier version reported an incorrect number of private schools in Ventura County.