As The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese reported Tuesday, more parents in California, encouraged by physicians, are getting their kids immunized, reversing a dangerous decadelong trend that had alarmed public health advocates.
About 2.5% of children entering kindergarten this fall arrived without vaccinations. That’s still too high, but better than the year before, when 3.1% of them had not received their shots.
Many Valley counties did better than the statewide average. In Fresno, Kings, Merced and Tulare counties, the rates of children entering kindergarten without vaccinations were 1.5% or lower, according to the California Department of Public Health. Rates for Kern and Madera counties were 1.5% to 2%.
The most likely reason for the improving news is 2012 legislation carried by Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.
Under his Assembly Bill 2109, physicians or other qualified health-care specialists must inform parents about the benefits and risks of vaccines, and sign forms attesting that they’ve imparted the information. The bill took effect in January. The simple act of telling parents about vaccinations apparently persuades more of them to have their kids immunized.
Some parents, particularly at some private schools, opt out because of scare stories linking vaccines to autism. There is no such link. The public health benefits of vaccinations far outweigh their risks.
Public health officials anticipate that as more parents decide to immunize their young children, mumps, measles and rubella will decline. Parents can go to the California Department of Public Health’s website to find immunization rates for virtually every school in the state.
A separate bill that took effect in 2011 requires middle and high school kids to be immunized against whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis.
Even as more kids are getting immunized, however, California is weathering an outbreak of whooping cough. State public health officials report 9,935 cases so far in 2014, surpassing the prior peak of 9,159 in 2010.
Although anti-vaxxers may share some blame for the epidemic, much of the resurgence in pertussis can be attributed to the fact that the U.S. is using a vaccine that has fewer side effects but also is less effective. The immunization wanes within a few years, which is why boosters are important.
Despite the rise in pertussis, there is reason for optimism. In 2010, 10 babies 6 months old and younger died from whooping cough. In 2014, three babies have died, though two contracted the disease in 2013. Public health officials attribute the drop in whooping cough deaths to a push to vaccinate pregnant women.
While we’re on the topic of immunization, the flu season is getting underway. It’s not too late to get your flu shot. You, your family and your co-workers will be glad you did.