September 30, 2014

In wealthy L.A. schools, up to 70% of parents exempt kids from vaccines

Daily Briefing

    The vaccination rates in some wealthier areas of Los Angeles are as low as those in war-torn countries—such as Chad and South Sudan—and could be contributing to disease outbreaks in the region, according to an investigation published this month by the Hollywood Reporter.

    The states with the best—and worst—vaccine coverage

    Details of the vaccination rates at LA schools

    California parents can opt out of vaccinating their children by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE).

    The PBE form allows for various reasons not to vaccinate children, based on a "diffuse constellation of unproven anxieties, from allergies and asthma to eczema and seizures," Hollywood Reporter's Gary Baum writes. Some parents file the exemptions because they do not want to vaccinate their children, but others might do so because they are unable to obtain the shots on time, according to The Atlantic.

    In one of the wealthier regions in the Los Angeles area—which includes Beverly Hills, Malibu, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, among other cities—rates of vaccination exemptions for preschoolers increased by 26% from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2013-2014 school year, reaching 9.1%. Meanwhile, exemption rates in Los Angeles County overall were about 2.2% during the 2013-2014 school year, according to the Reporter.

    Exemption rates were significantly higher in some preschools. For example, the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica had an exemption rate of 68% and the Kabbalah Children's Academy in Beverly Hills had an exemption rate of 57%. Those exemption rates put the schools in line with vaccination rates in some developing countries, according to World Health Organization data.

    At the same time, a resurgence of old diseases

    The numbers are troubling considering that a community can only be properly protected from a disease when at least 92% of its population is immunized. "These parents aren't just risking their own kids' health, they're risking everyone's," The Atlantic's Olga Khazan writes.

    How anti-vaxxers helped breathe new life into old diseases

    Relatedly, the incidence of whooping cough has skyrocketed, Khazan writes. As of Sept. 2, there were nearly 8,000 cases of the disease in California in 2014. More than 1,300 of those cases are in L.A. County.

    Meanwhile, California has also experienced an unprecedented number of measles cases.

    CDC: How the vaccine schedule has saved lives

    Deborah Lehman, associate director of pediatric infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, called the outbreaks "a smoldering fire that has started and it could be a complete wildfire if vaccination rates continue to fall" (Khazan, The Atlantic, 9/16; Baum, Hollywood Reporter, 9/10).

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