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Santa Monica-Malibu Public Schools Lagging in Up-to-Date Vaccinations
By Niki Cervantes
August 16, 2017 -- With school starting soon, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is failing to reach the level of vaccinations for kindergarten students health officials view as vital to heading off a repeat of the measles outbreak that hit California in 2015, state data shows.
Overall, about 80 percent of the 871 kindergartners enrolled in 11 SMMUSD schools were up to date on their required immunizations against measles and other highly contagious diseases, according to the database from the California Department of Public Health.
Public health officials say a 95 percent vaccination rate is needed, however, to stop such diseases before they start spreading.
Of those SMMUSD schools in the state’s database, three cracked the 95 percent threshold.
At Grant Elementary, 97 percent of the 117 kindergarten students were fully immunized. Edison and Will Rogers elementary schools were at 95 percent each.
Point Dume Elementary School in Malibu had the weakest record in 2016-2017, with 10 kindergartners of a total of 35 enrolled not up to date, the state found.
Eight were recorded as “conditional entrants” who did not meet the immunization requirements but were attending with a temporary exemption per a doctor’s affidavit.
At the Santa Monica Alternative Schoolhouse (SMASH), 17 of the 22 total kindergarten students had all vaccinations, or 77 percent.
Among total kindergartners, another 20 were granted permanent medical exemptions, which are reserved for those with health problems potentially jeopardized by the vaccinations.
“These are students who are medically fragile and due to illness or disease cannot get the vaccines,” said Gail Pinsker, a SMMUSD spokesperson.
Pinsker said all new students coming in to SMMUSD must show proof of immunization, regardless of grade.
She said the district notified parents prior to the end of last year about the immunizations under the stricter requirements mandated by SB 277, which first impacted schools last fall.
“We are following this law and have seen an increase in immunized students, which is a good result,” she said. “Herd mentality, as it's called, is important to the health and safety of all our students, including those who are medically fragile and not able to be immunized.”
The new state figures show a marked increase in vaccinations for SMMUSD schools with the lowest past vaccination rates.
At the time of the measles outbreak two years ago, 40.3 percent of SMASH’s students were not immunized, primarily because their parents received “personal belief” waivers allowing them to “opt out” of vaccinations ("High Percentage of Santa Monica Students Not Vaccinated Against Measles, Data Shows," February 6, 2015).
At that point, the district’s schools in Malibu -- home to an active number of parents in the anti-vaccination movement -- had the weakest immunization rates and largest numbers of parents who had obtained opt-out waivers.
At Point Dune Marine Science School, 21.2 percent of the children were not immunized. At Cabrillo Elementary, 15.8 percent of parents took the waiver, as did parents of students at Webster Elementary.
Officials said a tripling statewide rise in immunizations for public school children was in large part a law proposed after the measles outbreak, which banned most personal exemptions.
Senate Bill 277, by Santa Monica State Senator Bill Allen and Sacramento State Senator Richard, became effective with last fall’s public-school students ("Vaccine Bill Co-Authored By Santa Monica State Sen. Allen Headed To Governor," June 29, 2015).
Allen called the rise in immunizations “gratifying.”
Compared to the 2015-16 school year, the overall percentage of students attending kindergarten in 2016-17 with required vaccines rose from 93 percent to 96 percent.
Yet, the state also found hundreds of students were still not fully immunized as they prepared for school that autumn.
An analysis by the Los Angeles Times determined 10 percent of the kindergarten students in 58 schools were receiving medical exemptions –- a rate which rose to 20 percent at seven schools.
Doctors would expect 3 percent at most people could have a medical reason for not tolerating vaccines, such as a gelatin allergy or undergoing chemotherapy, according to the Times.
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