Health & Medicine

Sutter County bucks trend of higher vaccination rates

More California seventh-grade students received their required immunizations last school year than ever before, with one exception -- those living in Sutter County, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The county, one hour north of Sacramento, is the only one in the state to see its Tdap vaccination rates fall, despite a recent state law that eliminated personal exemptions.

Last school year 85.3 percent of Sutter County’s seventh-graders had the tetnus, diphtheria and pertussis, or Tdap, booster -- an 8 percent dip from 2015-16.

Statewide the number of seventh graders getting the required booster increased .06 percent to 98.4 percent, following a 1.2 percent increase between the 2013-14 and 2015-6 school years.

“We are very concerned about it,” said Dr. Lou Anne Cummings, Sutter County health officer. “The immunization of our school children not only protects the kids but the entire community.”

Sutter County also saw a 4.7 percent dip in its kindergarten vaccination rates last school year, although it was not the lowest rate among California counties. Its kindergarten vaccination rate in 2016-17 also was 85.3 percent.

The findings are part of an annual report compiled by the state Department of Public Health from information sent by schools. The report credits recent laws rejecting personal exemptions, the state auditing of schools for compliance and increased public awareness for the uptick in immunized California seventh graders.

“Children in classroom settings must be immunized,” Cummings said. “Our classroom rates are all 95 percent or above. Classroom school settings are well protected.”

Sutter County health and education officials met recently to discuss possible reasons for the overall dip in vaccinations and concluded that the students lacking their shots were being home schooled or were in independent study, said county schools chief Baljinder Dhillon.

These two groups are among those not required to be immunized.

Dhillon said she doesn’t believe that parents are putting their children in independent study to avoid immunizing them.

Last school year 264 of the 1,802 seventh-graders students in Sutter County were not immunized. Of those, 216 were in independent study, 31 had individual education plans and 10 had medical exemptions. Information on the other seven students was not available.

“We are still looking closely at the data and are tying to improve the level of immunizations,” Dhillon said.

All 162 children in the tiny Marcum-Illinois Union School District, comprised of a transitional kindergarten to 8th grade school in East Nicolaus, have had their immunizations, said Superintendent/Principal Jimmy Eggers.

“There are parents who choose not to have vaccinations,” he said, referring to people generally. “Those parents who choose not to do so need to have an option.”

He said that those students generally are being home schooled through a charter school.

The Sutter County Health Department has put a high priority on ensuring that children have access to vaccines, Cummings said. “We promote them. We educate providers and we make sure vaccines are available.”

She said health officials will be working to determine if there are any barriers to kids getting immunized and will try to remove those barriers. They are asking a series of questions, she said: “Are they having trouble getting to a place to get vaccines? Are there costs in the way? Do they have accurate information about immunizations?”

Sutter County is part of the federal Vaccines for Children program, which provides immunizations at low or no cost to children who are eligible for Medicaid, are uninsured or are American Indian or Alaska natives.

“We really try to connect people with what is already there,” Cummings said of services.

The health department also offers immunization clinics at its offices at 1445 Veterans Memorial Circle from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on some Fridays, according to its web site.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

Percentage of county students immunized

Statewide 98.4 percent

Sacramento 97.9 percent

Yolo 99.1 percent

Yuba 98.6 percent

Sutter 85.3 percent

Nevada 90.5 percent

Placer 96. 7 percent

El Dorado 98.1 percent

Calaveras 93.5 percent

San Joaquin 98.5 percent

- California Department of Public Health