Vaccination Rates Remain Low at Several Area Schools

Personal-belief exemptions remain an issue for Santa Monica and Malibu schools with the 2015-16 school year getting started and the enactment of a new state vaccination law coming soon.

The bill, co-authored by Santa Monica High alumnus and former SMMUSD board member Ben Allen and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in June, repeals California’s personal-belief exemption for vaccines.

The law, which takes effect on July 1, 2016, came in part as a response to the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland and spread throughout Southern California, infecting a Santa Monica High School baseball coach and an infant at the school’s child care facility.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is again ramping up efforts to get students vaccinated.

“We continue to encourage families to have their kids vaccinated, as we aggressively did last spring following the measles outbreak that did come close to home at SMMUSD,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said.

District officials will be discussing implementation of the new law and will follow directions from the state and county education departments, she said.

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“Parents should put vaccinations on their back-to-school checklists,” said Karen Smith, director of the state Department of Public Health. “Vaccinations are the best way to ensure that students are protected and to stop the spread of measles and other serious diseases.”

Personal-belief exemptions

Personal-belief exemptions (PBEs) varied greatly at local schools during the 2014-15 school year, according to data recently released by the State of California Public Health Department.

Data collected in kindergarten and seventh grade offer a glimpse into the levels of PBEs, which include families that have decided against vaccinations despite health counseling as well as religious-belief exemptions.

In seventh-grade at Malibu public schools last year, the rate of students with PBEs was five percent at Our Lady of Malibu School (just one student) and two percent at Malibu Middle School (three students submitting PBE forms).

Meanwhile, a staggering 57 percent of seventh-grade students at New Roads in Santa Monica had personal-belief exemptions to vaccinations in 2014-15.

The percentage of students with PBEs at the kindergarten level last year was 29 at SMASH; 16 at Juan Cabrillo, Point Dume, Roosevelt and Will Rogers; 13 at Webster and Franklin; eight at Grant and John Muir; and five at McKinley.

Data from Malibu nursery schools show PBE requests up to 41 percent (Children’s Creative Workshop). Meanwhile, St. Aidan’s preschool program, which has 18 enrolled students, had only two students with up-to-date vaccinations last year. Two St. Aidan’s students turned in PBE forms and another 14 had “conditional” or partial vaccinations, bringing the rate of up-to-date vaccinations to only 11 percent at the program.

Comparing vaccination rates

Exempting students from mandatory vaccinations has become a hotly contested topic in the last couple of years, with health professionals urging parents to inoculate their children to avoid the spread of preventable disease. This has prompted a noticeable percentage of parents to buck the anti-vaccine trend.

In the 2012-13 school year, 11 percent of Malibu Middle School seventh-grade students submitted PBE forms (15 students) along with 50 percent of Our Lady of Malibu seventh-graders (five students).

In that same year, 56 percent of nursery school students at Children’s Creative Workshop filed PBEs. 

A version of this story ran in the Santa Monica Daily Press. News Editor Emily Sawicki contributed to this report.

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