Today is the first day of school for many new kindergartners throughout California. Most of them will enter school with fully up-to-date immunizations. But a growing number of parents throughout the state are opting for the “personal belief” exemption and not immunizing their children.
The California School Immunization Law requires that children be up-to-date on their immunizations to attend school or child care. California, however, provides an exemption from this requirement if parents file a letter stating that immunizations are contrary to their beliefs. A parent can take the personal belief position at any time.
Whether parents have safety concerns about immunizations or don’t fully understand the severity of preventable childhood diseases, the reality is if children stop getting immunized, rare diseases like mumps and measles could return. In fact, according to the CDC, this year the U.S. has recorded the highest number of measles cases since 2006 (there were 118 cases from the first of the year through May 2011). And last year in California, ten infants too young to receive the vaccine died as a result of a Whooping Cough outbreak.
A new report released last Thursday by an independent panel of experts found that vaccines rarely cause side effects and found no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. This report supports previous studies that also came to these conclusions. The Institute of Medicine convened the experts, who reviewed more than 1,000 scientific articles in their assessment on vaccine safety.
In yesterday’s Contra Costa Times, the lead article on their Website was about “thousands of parents not vaccinating their children.” According to the article, over the last decade personal belief exemptions for entering kindergartners have tripled in the state. While the number of parents choosing not to immunize may be growing, fortunately the percentage is still pretty low. In Contra Costa last year, the rate was just over 2%.
The Bay Citizen compiled a database last year on the percent of kindergarteners with parents who chose personal belief exemptions by county, district, or school level. By district, the highest opt-out rate was 3.5% in the Walnut Creek Elementary District, but El Sobrante’s small East Bay Waldorf School, had over 70% of kindergartners not fully immunized. (This school had to shut down temporarily a few years ago due to a Whooping Cough outbreak.)
Immunizations are critical to keeping a young child healthy. They teach a child’s immune system to recognize and fight off dangerous diseases. Because of immunizations, diseases such as polio, meningitis, and tuberculosis are rare today. To ensure maximum benefits from immunizations, talk with your child’s health care provider and keep these “5 R’s” about immunizations in mind:
- Remind! Remind yourself and other parents to start immunizing their child at 2 months. An early start can help prevent unnecessary diseases later.
- Review! Review your child’s immunization history to be sure they are receiving their shots on time, every time. Because immunization schedules can periodically change, check with your doctor to be sure yours is accurate.
- Record! Keep a record of when your child receives shots every time you visit your doctor or clinic.
- Request! Be proactive in your child’s health by asking the doctor when your child’s next shots are due.
- Read! Read the information you receive about the shots carefully. Be sure to observe your child for any signs she is not feeling well after shots have been administered.
The health department or a family doctor or pediatrician can provide an immunization schedule and help you set up appointments to follow it. Even if your child begins his or her immunization schedule late, your health care provider can help you get back on track.