Los Angeles school officials have launched an effort to increase and document the percentage of young children who've been vaccinated against measles, including hiring 10 nurses on a temporary basis.
The plan, presented before members of the Los Angeles school board on Tuesday, focuses on students in early education centers, out of concern that they could be unvaccinated in greater numbers.
Over one week, the percentage of students vaccinated against measles at these centers rose from 88% to 92%. This number could mainly reflect better record-keeping of students who'd already been vaccinated, said Kimberly Uyeda, director of student medical services for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
As of Feb. 12, 9,397 children were enrolled in these centers. Of these, 763 were not immunized; 28 had an exemption based on personal beliefs and six had a medical exemption.
The early education centers offer preschool programs for lower-income families, but children up to second grade are eligible for some services.
Part of the challenge for L.A. Unified has been a shortage of nursing staff, officials said. Before the recent recession, the district employed 678 nurses, which was less than one per school. That number dropped by 200 because of budget and enrollment reductions as well as retirements, said Tonya Ross, the district's director of nursing.
The school system has hired about 40 nurses this year and is still interviewing applicants, she said.
A reduction in clerical staff also has contributed to record-keeping problems and also a lack of follow-up with families regarding vaccines.
Measles vaccinations became a high-profile concern after a recent outbreak at Disneyland and reports on parents who choose not to vaccinate.
L.A. Unified began reviewing its documentation and discovered that 20% of kindergartners this year were admitted "conditionally," that is, without a record that they were up to date on vaccines. The 20% figure compares to typical rates of 13% to 16% in recent years.
The spike could be a result of a new, balky student records system, Ross said.
The records system, called MISIS, has made operations difficult in various ways, including hindering students from receiving accurate transcripts and from getting courses they needed to graduate.
Overall, the measles risk in L.A. Unified is low, Uyeda said. More common is pertussis or whooping cough, a contagious disease that preceded measles in the headlines. A case was reported at five different schools on Tuesday, Uyeda said.