Even with a new law that has boosted kindergarten vaccination rates to record highs, hundreds of schools across California still have so many children lacking full immunization that they pose an increased risk of disease outbreaks, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of state data.
At nearly 750 schools, 90% or fewer kindergartners had been fully vaccinated last year, the analysis found. Experts say the rate should be at least 95% to prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases such as measles.
California’s tougher inoculation law, known as SB 277, was approved in 2015 after a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland. The law bars parents from citing religious or personal beliefs to excuse their children from immunizations, but some who already had such exemptions were allowed to keep them.
The rest of the unvaccinated children need a form signed by their doctor saying they had a medical reason not to get their shots.
In the school year that began last fall, the law’s first year, the number of kindergartners in California with medical exemptions tripled, the analysis found.
Doctors say that at most, 3% of people could have a medical reason for not tolerating vaccines, such as a gelatin allergy or because they’re undergoing chemotherapy.
But the Times analysis found that at 58 schools, 10% or more kindergartners had medical exemptions last fall. The rate topped 20% at seven schools.
“That’s just totally wrong,” said Dr. James Cherry, a UCLA research professor and senior editor of the “Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.” “This idea of 20% having medical exemptions is nonsense, and certain doctors buy into that, but it’s wrong.”