The controversial 2015 law doing away with an exemption that had allowed public school students to skip vaccinations based on their “personal beliefs” appears to have worked. California state officials reported this week that 95.6% of kindergartners are fully vaccinated. That’s the highest rate recorded at least since 1998, when a now-debunked study purported to show a link between vaccinations and autism.
Overall, immunization rates in the state rose slightly more than 5 percentage points in the two years since the bitterly fought SB 277 was passed. Los Angeles and other Southern California counties that had rates below the 95% level considered optimal for preventing an outbreak of measles are now safely above it.
This data is cause for celebration, albeit a measured one. Though there are fewer counties in the vaccination danger zone, some remain, mostly in the north end of the state. Eighteen percent of schools in the state still have immunization rates lower than 95%. Those shortfalls must be eliminated. Also, the vaccination rates are only for entering kindergartners. Older kids who were previously exempted weren’t required by SB 277 to update their shots. There will be gaps in the collective immunity levels until those students either reach 7th grade, which has its own immunization requirements, or move on.
These are problems that should solve themselves over time, but the data showed a possible complication: a slight uptick in the number of students obtaining medical exemptions from the vaccinations, which are still allowed. These kids really may qualify for medical exemptions, but if the trend continues, it could point to unscrupulous doctors trying to make a buck with medical exemption mills. If so, they must be stopped before they undercut the good work of SB 277.