Editor’s note: the story below is from 2013. To see more recent data, please see this story published in early September, 2014.
By Olivia Hubert-Allen and Lisa Aliferis
Despite the overwhelming medical evidence that childhood vaccinations are exceptionally effective at preventing disease, a growing number of parents are opting out of having their children vaccinated. While state law requires that children be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, California parents can get around this requirement simply by filing a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement saying that vaccines are counter to their beliefs.
PBE rates vary across the state, including by county (Marin has the highest personal belief exemption rate in the Bay Area at 7.8 percent), and also by individual school. The California Department of Public Health compiles vaccination rates and PBE rates statewide. Below, we’ve made it easy for you to look up your own child’s school and see what the PBE rate is. You can also look at the data by county, city or school district. (PBE data for some schools was not provided.)
The column to the far right — “%PBE” — shows the percentage of children at a kindergarten with a personal belief exemption on file. Ideally, that number should be zero, as it is at many schools statewide. Look up your child’s school in the search box:
Baby cries after receiving a vaccine. (Dan Hatton: Flickr)
Update: Gov. Jerry Brown signed this bill into law on Sept. 30, 2012.
California has one of the more lenient approaches for parents who wish to opt out of vaccinations for their school-age children. While state law requires that children must be vaccinated against various illnesses (think polio, measles, tetanus) to enroll in school, California parents can opt out of vaccines simply by filing a short statement stating that immunizations are contrary to their beliefs. It’s known as a personal belief exemption.
This week in Sacramento, the Senate passed AB 2109, a bill to make this exemption a little tougher. Under the bill, parents who don’t wish to have their children vaccinated must meet with a health care provider to talk about risks and benefits of vaccines. The provider can be a doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, osteopathic physician, naturopathic doctor or a credentialed school nurse. The provider must sign a form and the parent must still provide a written statement.
“This bill does not take away the parent’s right to make a decision.”
Assemblyman Richard Pan of Sacramento, a pediatrician himself, sponsored the bill. He pointed to misinformation as a driver of parents opting out of vaccines. “Parents become uncertain. They’re not sure what they should do,” he told me today in an interview. “They’re being told their children should be immunized but at the same time, they’re seeing scary stuff out on the internet.” Continue reading
(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)
California is one of 20 states that allows parents to “opt out” of vaccines for their children simply by signing a form. It’s called a “personal belief exemption.” But AB 2109 would change that. The bill has cleared the Assembly and is starting its path through Senate committees.
If the bill becomes law, parents who wish to refuse vaccines would first need to receive counseling from a licensed health professional about the risks and benefits of skipping immunizations for their children.
Vaccination rates in California have been dropping in recent years, worrying public health officials. Ten infants died in a whooping cough outbreak in 2009.
“This is not about taking away the rights of parents to make decisions.”
“Democratic Assemblyman Richard Pan
wrote the bill. He’s also a pediatrician and says parents’ decision not to vaccinate their own child puts others at risk too.
Very young children, infants may be too young to be immunized,” he told me in a recent interview. “People with cancer and on chemotherapy, people with HIV or AIDS … they cannot receive immunizations.”