Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Drops — First Time Since 1998; Look Up Your Calif. School

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Under California law, all kindergarteners must be vaccinated against a range of communicable diseases before they can start school. But California also permits parents to opt-out of vaccines on behalf of their children. The opt-out rate doubled over a seven year period ending last school year. But now, for the first time since 1998, the opt-out rate has declined, from 3.15 percent statewide to 2.5 percent.

A new state law appears to be the driver. Under AB 2109, parents who wish to opt out of vaccines must file a personal belief exemption or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal belief.

lookupThis school year, for the first time, parents must first meet with a health provider who explains the risks and benefits of both vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. Until the current school year, parents simply had to sign the statement without any consultation.

State senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) sponsored the bill and is pretty happy about the decline. He believes that requiring the meeting with a health care provider clears up confusion some parents have about vaccines. Continue reading

Look Up the Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Your Child’s School

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

When parents sign a personal belief exemption (PBE) in California, it allows them to legally send their child to school without being vaccinated.

Find the percentage of kindergarteners who are unvaccinated at your child’s school below. We’ve included data from the last eight school years. This tool includes reports from every kindergarten in the state, public or private, with 10 or more students.

Continue reading

Measles Update — Marin Cases; State Lawmaker to Introduce Vaccine Bill

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Two unvaccinated Marin children have been confirmed to have measles, county health officials announced Thursday night in an advisory sent to all Marin County clinicians.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin Health Officer, told the Marin Independent Journal that the two children were members of the same family and that they had become infected outside the county. The children are of school age, Willis added, but no other unvaccinated children would be barred from attending school.

More from the Independent-Journal:

“These were two children who were out of school well before and throughout any infectious period,” Willis said. “The infectious period for measles is usually around eight days.”
Continue reading

California Considers Raising Smoking Age to 21

Ninety percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. (Dave Whelan/Flickr)

Ninety percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. (Dave Whelan/Flickr)

State lawmakers want to raise the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21, arguing the change would reduce smoking rates overall and lower health care costs associated with tobacco use.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced Senate Bill 151 on Thursday, saying the new legislation would increase protection for kids under 18 as well.

“It is much easier for someone who is 17 to get cigarettes from a friend who is 18,” he said. “Someone who is 21 is more likely to be in the workforce or in college, and unlikely to have a younger set of friends.”

Studies show that 90 percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. About 95 percent tried smoking before age 21. Continue reading

Suspected Ebola Patient in Sacramento Tested Negative

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

Update, Fri. January 30:

The California Department of Public Health says that the patient with suspected Ebola infection has tested negative for the virus. CDPH reminds everyone that there are no confirmed Ebola cases in California “and no threat to the general public.”

Original story:

A patient suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento Thursday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

We have no other details about the patient at this time — except that the patient was transferred from Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento. All five UC medical centers were designated Ebola treatment centers by the California Department of Public Health last October.

Here’s the full statement from UC Davis Medical Center: Continue reading

Half of California’s Children Now Covered by Medi-Cal

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

By Barbara Feder Ostrov, Kaiser Health News

California’s Medi-Cal program has grown to cover nearly half of the state’s children, causing policymakers and child advocates to question the ability of the taxpayer-funded program to adequately serve so many poor kids.

In the past two years alone, the program has added nearly 1 million young people up to age 20, including those newly eligible for Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The increase brings the total number of young people on Medi-Cal to 5.2 million, more than ever before.

Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid and the largest program of its kind in the nation.

Many pediatricians and specialists already refuse to accept new Medi-Cal patients, at least in part because the program offers among the lowest payment rates in the country. New rate cuts took effect this January. Health care advocates say adding more children to the mix will only worsen the likelihood of timely treatment. Continue reading

Call the Midwife: A Home Birth Story

The author's wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

The author’s wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

By Stephen Talbot

My wife, Pippa, gave birth like a giraffe, standing up.

I was astonished. This wasn’t quite the nativity scene I’d imagined. Then again, I should not have been too shocked. Pippa grew up in South Africa, she’s very keen on giraffes, and she likes doing things unconventionally.

I should also mention that this was happening at home, in our bedroom, in the middle of the night, and that no one else was around. Except for our two-year-old son asleep in another room.

Not to worry. Women have been giving birth in their homes, in their own fashion, for centuries, right? Well, actually, not so much these days, at least not in this country. A mere 1.36 percent of births in the United States in 2012 took place outside a hospital. Continue reading

Governor Appoints New Director of Health Care Services

Jennifer Kent was  most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California.

Jennifer Kent was most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California. (Courtesy: DHCS)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Jennifer Kent as the new director of the Department of Health Care Services, a $9 billion state agency that oversees the Medi-Cal program.

DHCS is the agency that oversees Medi-Cal.    
Kent had most recently been the executive director of Local Health Plans of California, an organization representing 14 not-for-profit public health plans across the state.

“I’m very excited,” Kent said. “It’s a big job, so I’m both thrilled and a little overwhelmed.”

Kent replaces Toby Douglas, who was DHCS director for the past four years. Kent has worked at DHCS in the past — in fact, she and Douglas were both deputy directors in the department at the same time. Kent worked at the department from 2004 to 2007. She headed legislative affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and has experience in both the public and private spheres of health care. Continue reading

Not Vaccinated? ‘Stay Home from School,’ Says Marin Dad of Leukemia Patient

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the last 4½ years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year, he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission.

Do you want to help the family of a child with cancer? Make sure your own children are vaccinated, doctor says.
Now, there’s a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.

Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — or what’s known as herd immunity.

But Rhett lives in Marin, a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions” in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of Marin’s kindergarteners have a PBE which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. Continue reading

Amnio Alternative: Blood Test Gives Women New Option for Prenatal Screening

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It's just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It’s just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

By Nell Greenfield-Boyce, NPR

When Amy Seitz got pregnant with her second child last year, she knew that being 35 years old meant there was an increased chance of chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. She wanted to be screened, and she knew just what kind of screening she wanted — a test that’s so new, some women and doctors don’t quite realize what they’ve signed up for.

This kind of test , called cell free fetal DNA testing, uses a simple blood sample from an expectant mother to analyze bits of fetal DNA that have leaked into her bloodstream. It’s only been on the market since October 2011 and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA does not regulate this type of genetic testing service. Several companies now offer the test, including Sequenom and Illumina. Insurance coverage varies, and doctors often only offer this testing to women at higher risk because of things like advanced maternal age.

“I think that I initially heard about it through family and friends,” says Seitz. “They had had the option of it given to them by their doctors.” Continue reading