The immunization opt-out rate among private schools in California is more than two times higher than in public schools, the Associated Press reports.
Fifteen private schools in the state have opt-out rates ranging from 60 percent to as high as 84 percent, a rate that’s alarming to some health officials who warn that parents’ choices to skip some or all childhood vaccinations could result in an outbreak of contagious diseases.
The news comes at a time when whooping cough cases in the U.S. may be the worst since 1959. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said that cases have nearly doubled since last year. Although it’s believed the increase isn’t related to vaccine deniers, refusing or delaying immunizations may make children more vulnerable to the disease.
The AP looked over immunization data from state surveys of California schools with at least 10 kindergartners. Breaking it down into public and private schools, the report found there were 110 private schools where more than 50 percent of kindergartners didn’t get all or some of their shots.
The story also said that about 15 percent of 1,650 private schools surveyed didn’t reach the 90 percent vaccination rate that public health officials say is key for reducing the chance of an outbreak. Among public schools that rate was 5 percent.
Fears of a relationship between autism and vaccines still linger among some parents, although an often-cited study on the supposed link has been debunked and retracted by the medical journal in which it was published.
But that and other health-related vaccine fears have kept many parents from ignoring recommended vaccine schedules, instead following timelines recommended by others, determining their own schedule, forgoing immunizations altogether or picking and choosing certain shots.
The AP said that in California and 19 other states, vaccinations are not mandatory and parents can waive them for philosophical reasons. However, a bill that would force parents to consult with a pediatrician or school nurse before they can decline immunization is currently in the hands of Governor Jerry Brown.
“We’re very concerned that those schools are places where disease can spread quite rapidly through the school and into the community, should it get introduced,” Dr. Robert Schechter, medical officer with the Immunization Branch of the California Department of Public Health, was quoted as saying.
But not everyone shares his concerns. The story also quoted Bibi Reber, a Mill Valley mother who opted in only for vaccines for the most serious diseases: “I don’t think dirt or getting sick makes you a weak person; your immune system needs to work with things. We certainly don’t want to go back to having polio, but on the other hand, I don’t think we need to eradicate all the childhood diseases.”
More studies and reports are beginning to document the increasing prevalence of shot limiting. A June study in the journal Pediatrics found that in one metropolitan area of Portland, Oregon, the percentage of parents who opted out of some vaccinations rose from 2.5 percent in 2006 to 9.5 percent in 2009.
Some people quoted in the story speculated that public school parents may be more distrusting of vaccine recommendations, and may be doing their own research on immunizations.
Do you think parents should be allowed to opt out of recommended vaccines for their children? Let us know in the comments.
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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine | TakePart.com