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KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Students Head To School Under New Vaccine Law

Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.
Ana Tintocalis
Backpacks hang outside of a San Diego classroom.

San Diego Students Head To School Under New Vaccine Law
San Diego Students Head To School Under New Vaccine Law GUEST: Dr. Mark Sawyer, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego

Our top story on midday edition.'s back-to-school time for kids. California's new vaccination laws take effect. Last year the legislature removed the personal belief exemption which allowed present -- parents to opt out a vaccination requirements. Now children entering kindergarten, seven great or childcare must prove they have received specific vaccinations. -- Seventh grade or childcare must prove they have received specific vaccinations. What kind of situation was beginning to develop in California that prompted this new law? Was there a big drop-off in kids getting vaccinated? Not a big drop-off but what we have seen over the last decade is a gradual or subtle drop off in vaccinations to the point where we were starting to see increased outbreaks of infectious disease in schools and other places. This phenomenon is not unique to California. We are seeing this across the country. A lot of people have pointed to the measles outbreak at Disneyland. Can you trace the saw to that event? I think that event get a lot to galvanize people thinking about the role of public protection of public health versus individual decision-making on behalf of parents which is really what this is all about. At some point we have to recognize that infectious diseases are shared amongst all of us and the decision of one parent to not immunize their child affects other parents who they don't even know and children they don't know. Parents use a personal believe exemption because they believed the vaccines could hurt their children, possibly causing autism., Pediatricians try to ease that fear? There have now been many studies, scientific studies that have addressed this specific question. There is no evidence at all that vaccines are linked to autism. The operative word here is in believe. It is fine for you to believe something but the real way to make decisions is based on scientific evidence. We now have that evidence about this questions about vaccines and autism's and their -- autism and there is no link. There is the concept of community protection or some people call it hurt community. If you get a certain % of the population who is not protected and someone comes into that population with an infection it can suddenly take off and cause an outbreak. That is what we saw in Disneyland. When you think about it, a single person with the measles walking around Disneyland got the ball rolling and eventually over 100 people were infected from that single exposure. So you have to have a critical threshold or level of protection in any group and that can be in a school or a community or country to prevent outbreaks of disease. Is there a specific percentage of people who need to be vaccinated? There is. There are Appia DiMeo -- for something like measles unique clothes to 95% of the population immunized to prevent outbreaks. That is really the goal of this new law requiring vaccinations for school. That the levels up to the point where we will not have outbreaks because we can never immunize everybody. There are certain people who have medical reasons not to be immunized so to keep them protected we need to reach as overall community level of protection. You mentioned that not all people can get immunize. Medical exemptions to remain for some kids. What would be the example of the medical exemption allowed for a school child? I think the most common reason that people would recognize this is children who have problems with their immune system such as children with cancer who are getting chemotherapy. Their immune system is such that it is not safe to give them certain vaccines are vaccines will not work for them. We do further vaccination until they finish treatment. This new law requires proof of immunization when entering childcare and then when entering kindergarten and then seventh grade. I think we can understand childcare and kindergarten but why seventh grade? There is a new set of vaccines that become required at age 11. In order to ensure that students are immunized against those diseases, the seventh grade was introduced as another checkpoint. If a child is in second grade now and is not immunize, is that student required to get any vaccinations before the seventh grade and if not, is at a dangerous loophole? Yes there is a bit of a loophole. That came out of the whole legislative process and negotiating help would be to introduce that. We will continue to have a group of students who were not immunize. That will gradually fade out over the next four or five years and then we will be completely immunize. We're not completely out of the woods with regard to this issue but that is the way the law was crafted. There is a possible injunction pending stemming from a lawsuit by an anti-vaccination group. Are you confident the new requirements will be upheld? I think so but I am the legal expert. I am not really familiar with the presidents except there is clear precedent dating back to the beginning of the 1900s that the public health benefit of health -- a vaccination outweighs individual rights to decide whether to get immunize or not. So that was determined that the US Supreme Court more than a century ago. I have been's wiki with Dr. Mark Sawyer with the American Academy of pediatrics on infectious diseases.

San Diego Unified School District's new school session starts Monday. It's the first year students will be required to be vaccinated under California law with only minor exceptions.

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RELATED: San Diego Judge Won’t Block California’s Strict Child Vaccination Law

The law, passed last summer, no longer allows parents to waive school vaccination requirements due to personal or religious beliefs. Medical exceptions are still allowed. The law was passed after researchers found a 2014 measles outbreak that began at Disneyland was tied to low vaccination rates.

"I think that event did a lot to galvanize people thinking about the role of public protection and public health versus individual decision making on behalf of parents, which this is really all about," Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady's Children's Hospital San Diego, told KPBS Midday Edition on Friday. "At some point we all have to recognize that infectious diseases are shared amongst all of us and the decision of one parent to not immunize their child affects other parents who they don't even know and children they don't even know."

Sawyer said that many studies have already addressed concern by some parents who believe vaccines can lead to autism.

"There's no evidence at all that vaccines are linked to autism," he said. "The operative word here is 'believe.' It's fine for you to believe something. But the real way to make decisions is based on scientific evidence."

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Vaccination rates appear to already be on the rise, San Diego Health officials said earlier this month. During the 2013-2014 school year, 4.5 percent of kindergartners weren't immunized, but that fell to 3.6 percent last year. Officials expect the number to continue to fall.

Existing personal or religious exemptions for students already in school remain in effect until a student reaches the seventh grade, when the state requires immunization documentation. Students who have already attended seventh grade don't have to receive vaccinations before they graduate.