California’s new vaccination law won’t take effect until summer, but last week brought good news from state health officials: Immunization rates are already starting to rise.
After years of decline, rates of vaccination have ticked up this year among kindergarteners, with fewer opt-outs and “personal belief” exemptions.
Of the more than 550,000 kindergarteners whose schools reported their status, 92.9 percent had gotten all their required shots for school this year, up 2.5 percentage points from last school year.
Public schools were more compliant than private schools, and some counties still lagged (we’re looking at you, Trinity and Nevada counties).
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But 46 out of the state’s 58 counties had higher immunization rates than they had last year, and some big counties were way, way up. Alameda County’s rate rose by more than 7 percentage points from last year, San Francisco’s was up by more than 6 points and Los Angeles County’s was up by 4 points. Even Sacramento County, which showed a more modest gain, reported that 88.5 percent of its kindergarteners were fully immunized, up from 87.4 percent last year.
The improvements suggest that even with a grace period to let schools and day care centers prepare for the new law’s implementation, the debate over Senate Bill 277 – and the Disneyland measles outbreak that spurred it – have already raised consciousness.
That’s important, because the fight to restore herd immunity and fend off a resurgence of contagious disease is far from finished. Immunization rates need to be around 92 percent to prevent, say, an outbreak of measles or whooping cough from spreading. But more than a third of the state’s counties still reported kindergarten immunization rates that don’t even hit the 90 percent mark, including Sacramento, Placer, Calaveras and Amador counties.
Moreover, although vaccine resisters failed to gather enough signatures to overturn SB 277 or recall its author, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, those following the implementation of the law anticipate legal challenges in July, when it becomes effective.
And the law still will allow opt-outs for medical reasons if parents can find doctors to sign them. On this front, state health officials cannot let their guard down. California already has problems enough with Dr. Feelgoods eager to make a quick buck from the fears of misinformed or misguided patients.
As the new law gears up, the state medical board should crack down on any physician who appears to be offering bogus medical exemptions or setting up shop as a professional enabler for vaccine resisters. Our diligence as the year progresses will determine how soon we can grant ourselves a clean bill of health.