California eliminated “personal belief” exemptions for certain childhood vaccines, and as a result the vaccination rate for kindergartners in the state went from 90.4% to 95.1%. The threshold for herd immunity is 94%, according to the LA Times.
In the 2014-15 school year, when parents could still opt out of vaccinations for any reason they chose, only 90.4% of kindergartners in California public schools were fully immunized. That’s below the 94% threshold needed to establish community immunity for measles, according to experts.
Gaps like that helped persuade state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 277, which was signed into law in 2015. It requires every child taught in public school classrooms to be fully immunized against 10 diseases: diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae Type B, measles, mumps, pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough), poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus and varicella (a.k.a. chickenpox) — unless a doctor provides a medical reason for why it would be unsafe to do so.
By the most basic measure, it worked. In the 2017-18 school year, 95.1% of kindergartners had all of their immunizations, according to the California Department of Public Health.
This is a huge accomplishment, especially in California, which has struggled with vaccination rates ever since Jenny McCarthy started spreading her nonsense to (mostly) wealthy women. The fact is that vaccines have been so effective at eliminating diseases like polio that privileged people often take that for granted.
Still, the new law in California isn’t without its problems. It may have eliminated exemptions based on “personal beliefs,” but that has caused more and more parents to seek exemptions for “medical reasons.” And there seem to be more than enough doctors wiling to justify exemptions that aren’t really necessary.
However, the elimination of personal belief exemptions was offset to some degree by an increase in medical exemptions. Prior to the passage of SB 277, only 0.2% of students had a medical exemption, the health department said. By 2017-18, that figure had more than tripled, to 0.7%.
Part of that increase was legitimate, the study authors explained: Some parents whose children could have qualified for medical exemptions obtained personal belief exemptions instead because they were easier to get.
But many of the additional medical exemptions were bogus, health officials suspect. Though they’d like to crack down and see more kids get vaccinated, there are numerous obstacles in their way, new study revealed.
The details come from a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that health regulators in California have more power to insist a dog is vaccinated against rabies than to enforce childhood vaccinations at public schools.
There are still several problems with the current law, but there’s no doubt that it has also had a positive effect on vaccination rates for kids in the state. The flaws with the medical exemption program must be addressed, but until then it’s nice to know more children are getting immunized.
Yours in Reason,