A lot of kindergartners in Tulare County rolled up their sleeves for vaccine shots this school year.
The county has the highest kindergarten vaccination rates for the 2016-17 school year, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health.
In Tulare County, 98.5 percent of kindergartners had all their required immunizations, putting it at the top of the list of counties. The next highest vaccination rate was 98.1 percent in San Benito County.
All of the counties in the central San Joaquin Valley had higher vaccination rates than the statewide rate of 95.6 percent. Merced County had a rate of 97.7 percent; Kings County, 97.6; Fresno County, 97.1 and Madera County, 96.0.
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The Valley counties and the state all saw increases in vaccination rates from the 2015-16 school year. Statewide, the rate increased by 2.7 percent. Valley counties, which traditionally rank high for vaccinations, saw increases, but Tulare County’s increase of 1.4 percent was the largest among the Valley counties.
Dr. Karen Haught, health officer for Tulare County, said immunizing children is a priority for the public health department. “Working in public health and as a pediatrician, I value the impact that immunizations have had on decreasing serious illnesses in children,” she said. “It’s remarkable what they have done to protect children and to protect all of us. So I think it is great that we have a high immunization rate.”
Haught said the health department works closely with schools in the county to arrange immunization clinics for children to get their shots. This year, the county had 71 vaccine clinics. The county also does outreach to explain the value of immunizations.
Haught said she could not comment on the effect legislation ending the personal belief exemptions for vaccination may have had on vaccination rates. The law went into effect this school year.
But Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician who co-authored the vaccine legislation, said in a news release: “I am pleased that this first year of implementation of SB 277 has resulted in the significant rise of the vaccination rate of this year’s kindergarten class.”
Dr. Karen Smith, the state public health officer, cited the legislation as one factor contributing to the statewide increased vaccination rate, but she also gave credit to efforts by state and local public health departments, schools and community organizations to support immunizations. She also said a state audit of schools in 2016 and 2017 to ensure they complied with immunization laws could be a factor in the higher vaccination rate.