The recent law establishing stricter vaccination requirements for California public schools has already resulted in higher vaccination rates, according to the California Department of Public Health. Last year, Senate Bill 277 established stricter vaccination requirements for California public schools by eliminating religious and personal belief exemptions. In the 2016–17 school year, the number of California seventh-graders who fulfilled immunization requirements climbed to 98.4 percent, an increase of 1.8 percent over the last three years. In the same period, the percentage of seventh-graders claiming medical exemptions (which were not eliminated) increased from 0.1 percent in the 2015–16 school year to 0.4 percent in 2016–17. The statewide trend toward higher vaccination rates also holds true for communities that saw low vaccination rates before the passage of SB 277. According to EdSource, immunization rates in Nevada County increased from 72 percent of kindergarteners and 89 percent of seventh-graders in 2011–12 to 80 percent of kindergarteners and 90.5 percent of seventh-graders in 2016–17. Nevada County also had one in five kindergarteners file personal belief exemptions from 2011 to 2014. Statewide, vaccination rates for kindergarteners have hit an alltime high in California. The California Department of Public Health has reported that the percentage of kindergarteners who received all required vaccines rose from 92.8 percent in the 2015–16 school year to 95.6 percent in 2016–17. Yet, according to an analysis conducted by the Los Angeles Times this month, the existing population of children who hold medical exemptions or grandfathered exemptions still could lead to disease outbreaks. A “grandfather” clause in the law allows partially vaccinated or unvaccinated children who were already in daycare or school by the end of 2015, and who submitted an exemption form or similar letter stating their decision to opt-out of full vaccination, to continue in school until they reach a future checkpoint. Checkpoints occur when a child reaches transitional kindergarten/kindergarten, and when a child reaches seventh grade. The Times analysis found that at nearly 750 schools across the state — the majority of which are private or charter schools — only 90 percent or fewer kindergarteners are fully vaccinated. In addition to medical exemptions, SB 277 does not mandate immunizations for students who do not receive “classroom-based instruction,” such as students who are homeschooled or enrolled in an independent study program that does not use a classroom. Further, any student who has an Individual Education Program is still entitled to all necessary services regardless of their vaccination status. Districts should have a process in place to check vaccination records at these designated checkpoints: when children newly enroll in the district, enroll in transitional kindergarten/kindergarten and when students advance to seventh grade. To ensure proper compliance with SB 277, districts should ask the following questions: » Does our district have sound plans and policies in place for health and safety, and do our plans include strategies for preventing the spread of infectious diseases? » What is the status of our medical records and what staff resources have we committed to maintaining those records? » What is our protocol for providing services to students who are excluded from attendance? » What are our policies regarding nonclassroom-based independent study options and how will we communicate them to our students and their families? » What is our relationship with local and state public health agencies? Who is our key contact? What resources do they have that we need to help us ensure the health and safety of our students? For more information, see CSBA’s fact sheet on vaccine legislation at csba.org/Vaccines.
Published by California School Boards Association. View All Articles.