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High Percentage of Santa Monica Students Not Vaccinated Against Measles, Data Shows

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 6, 2015 --The percentage of local public school youngsters who don’t have measles vaccinations reaches as high as 40 percent in one Santa Monica school, with a handful of others hovering at the double digits, according to data released by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

For the 2014-2015 school  year, data shows that at the Santa Monica Alternative Schoolhouse (SMASH), 40.3 percent of the kindergarten-through-eighth grade students were not immunized because their parents received “personal belief” waivers allowing them to opt out of measles vaccinations.

That was a sharp increase from the 2013-2014 year, when 24.6 percent of the students were opted out by parents, the records show.

Both last school year and this school year, the opt-out rate for SMASH kindergarteners alone was about 28 percent.

Such numbers are of particular interest as officials continue looking for ways to deal with the outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland in December and now includes 103 cases in California alone, as well as in several other states.

That includes two in Santa Monica – a Santa Monica High School freshman baseball coach who contracted the virus and an infant whose confirmed case has caused the temporary closure of the preschool at Santa Monica High.

On Thursday, a spokesperson said the center would re-open Friday, but that proof of vaccination is required.

Some statistics indicate that pockets of Santa Monica – like other affluent parts of the Westside and elsewhere in the state – have higher-than-usual numbers of youngsters whose parents don’t get them immunized against measles.

Malibu schools had some of lowest rates of vaccination in the district. At Point Dune Marine Science School, 21.2 percent of the children were not immunized. At Cabrillo Elementary, 15.8 percent of the youngsters were opted out; at Webster Elementary, about 14 percent of the students were opted out by parents. And at Malibu Middle School, 13.3 percent of parents opted out.

Experts have said a 92 percent immunization rate at minimum is needed to prevent outbreaks.  Only a handful of SMMUSD schools had opt out rates that were small enough to meet that level.

At Edison Elementary School, only 4.8 percent of parents obtained opt out waivers; at McKinley Elementary, 5.1 percent of parents did. John Adams Middle School had an opt out rate of 6.8 percent; at Santa Monica High School, waivers totaled 7 percent, the records for this school year show.

The percent of youngsters whose parents didn’t get them vaccinated was higher at the remaining schools.

Records show that at Will Rogers Elementary School, 15.1 percent of the parents opted not to have their children vaccinated; at Malibu High School it was 11.5 percent while Roosevelt Elementary, 11.3 percent parents opted out; and John Muir Elementary School, 10.3 percent parents did the same.

At Lincoln Middle School , the  opt out rate was 9.2 percent; at Grant Elementary it was 9 percent and at Franklin it was 9.5

Gail Pinsker, a SMMUSD spokesperson, cautioned that the report may not reflect changes since school registration in August, and that some students might have been since immunized who had been on waivers but have not provided the district with documentation.

“We are encouraging parents to update their records with us,” she said.

Meanwhile, the list of public officials urging parents to get their children vaccinated grew. Locally, it included 3rd District Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Kuehl  said that some Westside child-care and preschools have seen vaccination rates drop to levels comparable to developing nations like Chad and South Sudan.

In a letter to educators, she said, “The health of our community’s children has been needlessly jeopardized by too many parents who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to vaccinate their children, putting them  -- and everyone else’s children as well -- at increased risk of entirely preventable infection.”

“In this light,” she wrote, “it’s no surprise that the CDC reported a 1,740 percent increase in measles in 2014 over the previous decade, from a low of 37 in 2004 to a high of 644 cases of a disease officially declared eradicated.”

California state legislators are also grappling with the issue, and Wednesday proposed a law to repeal the “personal belief” exemption that allows parents to decide not to immunize their children from measles.

If the legislation is successful, California will join 32 others states that prohibit the opt-out option. The legislation also requires schools to notify parents of school immunization rates.

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