While the benefits of vaccines in preventing certain diseases is well-documented, a growing number of parents in coastal Orange County school districts, including Laguna Beach and Newport-Mesa, are excluding their children from certain recommended immunizations via a provision in current California law.
Parents may opt their children out of immunizations for diseases such as polio and chicken pox by citing personal beliefs, according to a California School Immunization Record, a state-mandated form that is part of a student's permanent record.
There has been a recent downward trend in immunization rates for students in California, according to a report from the Orange County Health Care Agency.
From 2003 to 2012, the percentage of immunized kindergarten children in Orange County declined to 89.3% from 92.9% , the report stated. The rate is even lower in the Laguna Beach and Newport-Mesa unified school districts.
This option to opt out is putting others at risk, according to Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) who wrote a new law meant to change the trend.
"Exposure to these preventable diseases not only places the individual child at risk, but the entire community, including infants too young to be fully immunized and individuals with compromised immune systems, who are vulnerable to complications of vaccine-preventable diseases, including death," Pan wrote.
Pan's law, set to take effect in January, will require parents who wish to exempt their child from vaccinations to receive information from a licensed healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of vaccination and vaccine-preventable disease, and both parties must sign the form, according to a report from the Orange County Health Care Agency.
"This measure would rectify this problem by creating a process where parents would be able to make an informed decision for their children," Pan wrote.
Rates of Immunizations
Laguna Beach Unified School District had the second-lowest percentage of kindergarten students with up-to-date immunizations, 77.9%, among Orange County's 24 school districts, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency's 19th annual Report on the Conditions of Children in the county for 2013.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District had the third-lowest percentage at 83.2%, this year's report said. That's a drop from 2012's 88.6% vaccination rate for the district's kindergartners.
Only the Capistrano Unified School District, with 71% of kindergarten students immunized, had a lower percentage than Newport-Mesa and Laguna.
California is one of 20 states that allow parents to justify not vaccinating their children based on personal beliefs or religious beliefs. The other 30 states only allow parents to opt out of the process for religious reasons.
At Laguna's El Morro Elementary School, 45 of 67 kindergarten students had completed immunizations as of Nov. 1, while 62 of 79 kindergarten students at Top of the World Elementary had completed the recommended vaccines, according to statistics provided by Laguna Beach Unified nurse Pam Majd.
More students opting out of vaccines due to personal beliefs at Top of the World, 16, than El Morro, six, statistics showed.
Sixteen students had not met all vaccine requirements and had not signed a waiver at El Morro as of Nov. 1 while one student at Top of the World had not met the requirements or signed a waiver by that date.
Neither Laguna school had any students who opted out of immunizations through medical exemptions.
Majd and school administrators are following-up with parents to make sure they complete all immunizations, she said.