District's vaccination compliance among lowest

Students in the Laguna Beach Unified School District have some of the lowest vaccination rates in Orange County, says a state report.

Just more than 2 in 10 students in the district have failed to get vaccinated, according to data analyzed by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The yearly assessment by the California Immunization Branch looks at kindergarten classes and reports immunization compliance.

In 2007, the county reached an historic high, 93% compliance. The goal for the state is 95%.

The most recent assessment, from 2010, reveals that countywide immunization coverage has dropped to 89%.

[This corrects the percentage of countywide immunization coverage.]

However, when the Orange County Health Care Agency looked at the individual data at districts, it painted a much different picture.

School districts in Anaheim, Fullerton and Garden Grove were among the best with 95% compliance or better.

Laguna Beach Unified (83.2%) and Capistrano Valley Unified School District (80%) are at the bottom.

Why the dip?

There are several reasons children aren't getting vaccinated at the same rate, said Dr. David Nunez, family health medical director of the Orange County Health Care Agency.

For one, he said, there is an increase in parental refusal.

"There has been a lot of misinformation in the media and the Internet regarding the safety of vaccines and alleged linkage to disorders, such as autism, which has been debunked by researchers," he said.

Other factors include different vaccine scheduling, so kids show up with only partial immunizations, or some families don't have adequate health coverage or don't take their children for yearly check-ups.

Robert Lynne Potter, a 50-year Laguna Beach resident, is one dissenter.

Potter, who has written numerous letters on the subject to the Coastline Pilot, is passionately against vaccinations and believes they do cause autism and other ailments. He cited an example of one woman who told him her child died after being vaccinated.

"As soon as I was vaccinated I got chicken pox and measles," he said. "They give you the disease. Now they're spraying it in to little children who are too young to get vaccinations."

In a rebuttal addressed to the Coastline Pilot, Dr. Mary Kaye Ashkenaze, an emergency physician at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach, said there is a lack of information and lack of trust in doctors.

Ashkenaze said she's worked in the Dominican Republic and in Peru and saw the effects of lacking necessary vaccinations, which results in dangerous diseases such as polio, tetanus, rabies and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

Dr. Nunez agrees that the low compliance can pose a threat to the community by introducing diseases that haven't been seen in the U.S. for decades.

"I think what's happened with the success of vaccination programs in the U.S. is that we've really reduced the instances of these diseases so they're not in our memory," he said. "Most people have not seen measles, diphtheria or many of these dangerous diseases. They're lulled into a false sense of safety, that there's no chance that these diseases will come back."

They can come back, he said, and they have. Take the outbreak of pertussis, which had 183 confirmed cases in children younger than 4 and 130 cases in children ages 5-14 in Orange County alone.

Low vaccination rates are one reason experts give for the outbreak since the disease is preventable, Nunez said.

To increase awareness, the Orange County Health Care Agency plans to update its website with more teaching materials for parents and explain the importance of vaccination and the risks associated with exemptions.

The Academy of Pediatrics has reached out to physicians and is providing workshops on how to counsel parents that are hesitant or refusing vaccination, Nunez said.

For information, visit Orange County's Health Care Agency website at ochealthinfo.com or call Laguna Beach Unified School District at (949) 497-7700.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World