Thousands of California parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, raising concerns among physicians and public health officials, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports.
California is one of 20 states that allow parents to exempt their children from booster shot requirements because of personal beliefs. Personal belief exemptions, signed by parents, allow children to start school without having received some or all vaccinations. The number of personal belief exemptions in the state has tripled in the last 10 years.
The trend comes after a record-breaking epidemic of pertussis, or whooping cough, last year in the state. There were more than 9,100 reported cases of pertussis and 10 infant deaths stemming from the illness last year, marking 2010 as the worst year for whooping cough in the state since 1947, according to the Sentinel.
State law now requires students entering grades seven through 12 to receive a booster shot for whooping cough within 30 days of starting school, unless they submit a personal belief exemption.
Santa Cruz County has one of the highest personal belief exemption rates in California, at 9.5%, which is four times the state average. In the northern part of the county, 17% of children entering kindergarten had exemptions last fall.
Issues Surrounding Vaccines
Parents point to conflicting information on the Internet about the benefits and risks of vaccines.
A survey from the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency found that while most parents think vaccines are important for thwarting illness, some also believe vaccines contain harmful substances.
In addition, the disappearance of many previously feared diseases means the risks associated with a vaccine could seem more threatening than the risk of the conditions they have helped eliminate, according to the Sentinel.
Health experts have said that as long as 95% of a population receives an inoculation, "herd immunity" decreases the likelihood for the spread of contagious diseases.
Rob Schechter -- a medical officer with the California Department of Public Health's immunization branch -- said that when vaccine refusals concentrate in certain geographic areas, diseases can spread more rapidly.
This report was produced by the California HealthCare Foundation's Center for Health Reporting. CHCF publishes California Healthline (Wiener, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/27).
A Sentinel editorial states that the low rate of immunization among children in Santa Cruz County "is startling."
The editorial concludes, "We urge parents to make sure they're getting the most up-to-date, accurate and credible information on vaccines before putting their kids, and others, at risk" (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/28).