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San Diego County Says More Kids Heading To Kindergarten Vaccinated

Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.

Photo by Ana Tintocalis

Above: Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.

San Diego County health officials say the number of kindergarteners entering local classrooms without vaccinations was down last school year. The rate should continue falling under a state law that bans some exemptions.

County health officials expect the number to increase. A law banning personal and religious belief exemptions to vaccinations is now in effect.

This year, parents can no longer have vaccine requirements waived because of their personal or religious beliefs. The new state law is the second passed after researchers linked a 2014 measles outbreak that began at Disneyland to low vaccination rates.

The first law required parents claiming the exemption to consult a doctor. As a result, 3.6 percent of kindergartners lacked immunizations. That's down from 4.5 percent in the 2013-14 school year, which ended about six months before the measles outbreak began.

Karen Waters-Montijo is the county's chief of immunizations. She said the small percentage without vaccinations — equal to about 1,600 children — remains a concern.

"It's cumulative, of course. It's this group and then the group from the previous year and then the group from the previous year," Waters-Montijo said. "And each of these groups contributes to pockets of unvaccinated children in our community who can contract and transmit infectious diseases."

Earlier this summer a group of California parents, including one from San Diego, asked a judge for an injunction on the belief exemption ban. They say that by prohibiting children who are not fully vaccinated from enrolling in school, the state has denied them the fundamental right to an education.

The parents in the case say they do not vaccinate, or they selectively vaccinate, their children because they're concerned about their children having adverse reactions or are opposed to vaccines containing animal proteins or cell lines derived from fetal tissue.

The case is pending.

Students can still claim a medical exemption if they have a written statement from a medical doctor. Children receiving home-based instruction do not have to meet immunization requirements. And students with special needs who have an individualized education program are not subject to the new law. One of the plaintiffs suing the state, however, has a son in such a program and says he was denied admission.

Personal belief exemptions filed before this year will remain valid until the child jumps from elementary school to seventh grade. If the exemption was filed for a seventh-grader, it will remain valid until he or she completes school.

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