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More Immunizations — And Maybe More Online Schooling — Under New Vaccine Rule

Pediatric nurse practitioner Jenny Lu gives a Tdap shot to a patient in Tusti...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Pediatric nurse practitioner Jenny Lu gives a Tdap shot to a patient in Tustin, Aug. 18, 2011.

The final vaccination rates are in for California’s first school year under a law banning personal belief exemptions for immunizations. The latest numbers, for seventh grade whooping cough boosters, show more students are getting immunized. But a small number may have found alternatives.

Nearly 98 percent of San Diego County seventh-graders had their Tdap booster by the start of last school year. That is up three-tenths of a percent from the year before. In Imperial County, 99 percent of seventh-graders had the booster, down three-tenths of a percent from the previous year.

“The law is working and our work with pediatricians and schools seems to really have gotten that word out,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the County of San Diego’s child health medical officer.

Video by Katie Schoolov

The law that went into effect last summer requires parents to have their children vaccinated or have a doctor certify their child cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons before enrolling their child in a public school. Previously, parents could opt out for religious or personal belief reasons.

RELATED: Kindergartner Vaccinations Rising In San Diego County After State Law Change

Sidelinger said there are still about 800 seventh-graders who did not get their booster. The number with medical exemptions, 286, grew by nearly one percentage point.

“We don’t know if that uptick is just parents whose children had a medical reason all along, but they chose to just say they preferred not to get the vaccine and now have gone to the doctor, or if these are new medical exemptions,” Sidelinger said. “But even that increase has not been very large, and we still have very good coverage.”

Nearly 500 students did not get the vaccine because they are in an independent study program, homeschooled or in a special education program. Such students are exempt from the law.

Independent study includes online public charter schools. KPCC reports vaccination rates are significantly lower in charter schools than in traditional public schools. Less than 74 percent of charter schools reporting their rates met the state target of having 95 percent of students vaccinated.

San Diego County charter schools with online components, including Julian Charter School and the Learning Choice Academy, had vaccination rates of less than 80 percent. Traditional private schools also had lower rates.

The new immunization rule came after 125 people contracted measles in 2015. The Centers for Disease Control tracked the outbreak to Disneyland attendees.

Opponents of the law filed a lawsuit in San Diego but have since dropped it. Some believe vaccines are linked to disorders such as autism or object to using animal proteins or cell lines derived from fetal tissue in vaccines.

Most recently, a measles outbreak affected dozens in Minnesota’s Somali community after members latched on to anti-vaccine messages. Sidelinger said San Diego’s large Somali population and other immigrant groups have high immunization rates. Lower rates, he said, tend to cluster in wealthier, more highly-educated parts of the county.

Sidelinger said those clusters are thinning. Multiple researchers have debunked the 20-year-old study that first linked vaccines to autism.

“I would highly recommend for parents to be aware that it’s their child’s life,” said Jovana Araujo with the Imperial County Department of Public Health, “and their whole community at risk.”

The latest numbers show more students are getting immunized, but a small number may have found alternatives.

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