Contra Costa Health Services launched an online tool to raise awareness about the growing number of parents who avoid school-required immunizations for their kids – a trend that threatens the entire community, health officials said today.
Interactive maps at cchealth.org now make it easy for parents and the community to check immunization levels at most kindergartens and child care facilities in Contra Costa County.
The maps show that the kindergartens at five elementary schools and students at 22 child care facilities are especially vulnerable to outbreaks of serious, vaccine-preventable diseases because of low immunization levels.
The recent exposure of BART riders to measles by a contagious, unvaccinated passenger underscores that these diseases remain a serious risk, said Paul Leung, Contra Costa Public Health immunization coordinator.
“High immunity levels among those exposed likely prevented more people from getting sick. But with more people skipping vaccines, that could change,” Leung said. “It’s important to know that it takes only 10% of a population to opt out of immunization to fuel a disease outbreak that could sicken many people, including those too young or too sick to receive vaccine.”
Schools require students to receive doctor-recommended vaccines against several diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and polio, but California law allows parents with personal beliefs against vaccination to opt out.
The maps show the percentage of students at each campus who did not receive all their vaccinations because parents filed a Personal Belief Exemption (PBE). The use of PBEs has increased over the past five years, both locally and statewide.
The campus with the highest 2013 kindergarten PBE level in the county – 50% – is East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante, which briefly closed in 2008 due to a whooping cough outbreak.
Health officials hope that a new state law that went into effect this year will improve immunization rates. The law requires families seeking a PBE to meet with their healthcare providers to discuss vaccine and disease facts, ensuring that parents have access to accurate information.
“There is no reason why children and other community members should be at increased risk of contracting whooping cough, measles and other serious diseases that can be prevented with vaccines,” said Dr. Joanna Chin, a pediatrician at CCHS’ Martinez Health Center. “Many of the parents I see who want to skip vaccines for their children do so based on faulty information. Access to accurate information can help parents make informed decisions.”
Visit THIS LINK to view the maps.