Editor’s note: the story below is from 2013. To see more recent data, please see this story published in early September, 2014.  

By Olivia Hubert-Allen and Lisa Aliferis

Despite the overwhelming medical evidence that childhood vaccinations are exceptionally effective at preventing disease, a growing number of parents are opting out of having their children vaccinated. While state law requires that children be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, California parents can get around this requirement simply by filing a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement saying that vaccines are counter to their beliefs.

PBE rates vary across the state, including by county (Marin has the highest personal belief exemption rate in the Bay Area at 7.8 percent), and also by individual school. The California Department of Public Health compiles vaccination rates and PBE rates statewide. Below, we’ve made it easy for you to look up your own child’s school and see what the PBE rate is. You can also look at the data by county, city or school district. (PBE data for some schools was not provided.)

The column to the far right — “%PBE” — shows the percentage of children at a kindergarten with a personal belief exemption on file. Ideally, that number should be zero, as it is at many schools statewide. Look up your child’s school in the search box:

James Watt, chief of the communicable disease control division with the California Department of Public Health, called high personal belief rates “a concern,” especially “because in some schools you really do have situations where you fall below a herd immunity threshold, and disease transmission is even more possible.”

“Herd immunity” means that there’s such a high vaccination rate that those who cannot be vaccinated, such as newborn infants or people with compromised immune systems, are protected.

[Related: Five Things You Should Know About Vaccines]

Schools are ripe places for disease transmission if kids aren’t vaccinated. Kids don’t have good “cough etiquette,” Watt noted, plus “kids in schools have a lot of contact with each other.” He stressed that the best thing parents can do is have their own children vaccinated. “The vast majority of children who are vaccinated are protected.”

A more worrisome issue, he said, is for children who cannot be vaccinated for a medical reason. In that case, parents may want to weigh a school’s PBE rate and consider what that means for their own child.

“It’s one piece of information that parents can use as they think about schools and their own children and what their risks may be,” Watt said. “Different children have different needs.”

In January, a new state law goes into effect requiring parents who want to opt out of vaccines to talk with a health care provider first about the pros and cons of both vaccines and communicable illnesses. Washington state passed a similar law in 2011, and their opt-out rate has since dropped by almost 40 percent.

On a countywide basis, the highest PBE rates are found in a collection of Northern California counties. Alpine, Calaveras, Del Norte, Humboldt, Mariposa, Siskiyou and Tuolomne counties all have PBE rates between 10.5 and 12.5 percent. Trinity County’s rate is 15.93 and Nevada County’s rate is 22.44, but both these counties have only a few hundred students in school, so it would take just a few children with PBEs to create the high percentage rate.

By contrast, San Francisco County’s PBE rate is 1.33 percent, and Los Angeles County’s rate is 1.88 percent.

Our methodology

The state conducts a kindergarten assessment of vaccination rates each fall. The data shown above are from the 2012-2013 school year and reflect a survey of more than 500,000 children at 8,220 public and private kindergartens in California. The assessment is done at the school level and reported to local health departments and to the state.

The state then compiles a report of the immunization status of all kindergarteners, a table with 26 columns of information. More than 90 percent of kindergarteners in the state start school fully immunized. But some children have “conditional” status, meaning they are lacking some vaccines but parents intend to get them. Officials told us they do not want to deny entrance to school because the child is not fully up-to-date, but is expected to be soon. Some parents are opposed to vaccines, so they have a “personal belief exemption” on file.

To make it easier for readers to look up the PBE rate at their own school, we simplified the state’s table. We did not alter the data in any individual column. Instead, we selected six of the 26 columns that we thought readers would find most interesting. In addition, we made the data sortable by county, city, school district and PBE rate. The state publishes a PDF of its data, which is not sortable. We asked the state for its Excel spreadsheet so that we could post this sortable version.

More California Parents Opting Out of Vaccines; Look Up Your School Online 24 September,2014State of Health

  • Dion Madsen

    Boggles the mind that those that can most afford the best healthcare and have the highest level of education refuse the simplest, safest and most effective preventive health

    • microlith

      It’s very sad. I have never received a smallpox or polio vaccination, but only because the diseases were so effectively wiped out by a diligent and aggressive vaccination campaign that rendered one extinct and the other nearly so.

      These diseases could be wiped out as well, but will continue to thrive and spread so long as people get lax and opt their children out. They keep these diseases around as threats to not only their children but their possible grandchildren, rather than helping push to make the vaccine unnecessary for their grandchildren by wiping the disease out.

  • karen_green

    This is a difficult issue. Apropos of this discussion I saw a “Law and Order” episode yesterday where a parent chose not to inoculate for measles, took the child to a playground and the child passed the virus to a little girl who died.

  • Justine Burgess

    I looked up our school. It says “0%” have one on file. I know that is not accurate, and how do I know? At least half of the parents I know have opted out. Either your information is old, or schools are not reporting it.

    • Mark2000

      I also know kids in our school in San Francisco who are not vaccinated, yet it has a 0% rating. It’s hard to believe that SF as a whole is so low with so many people practicing alt-medicine hoodoo.

      • Can you please email me: laliferis-at-kqed-dot-org and let me know the school your children go to, so I can investigate further? Thank you!

    • Can you email me laliferis-at-kqed-dot-org and tell me what school it is so I can investigate further?

  • ocschwar

    Time to knock out all the non-medical exemptions.

    If your “personal beliefs”, be they religious or otherwise, preclude vaxing, then they should preclude sending your kid to school.

  • LAUSD parent

    As a parent of a newly minted and fully vaccinated LAUSD kindergartener, I can offer one piece of info: these numbers may be slightly off due to the fact that some people (myself included) needed to submit one of these just to get the kid enrolled because we still had one shot to go and the form can’t be submitted until you have a required minimum of quite a few different series of shots. Also it’s a bit of a pain to get the vaccination form to the doctor and get it filled and returned back to you. We did revoke our PBE once we got the final shot and the dr’s form fully filled, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the statistics didn’t reflect revocations and/or some people not revoking it just because they never get around to it even if their kids are fully vaccinated. Also, if the parent didn’t want to vaccinate one particular type of shot (which seems to be a common thing), they’ll show up as a PBE even if there are other vaccinations. Anyway the statistics are very interesting (and downright frightening) and I’m sure the general trends are correct per county, but I wouldn’t consider the numbers to be 100% reflective of actual vaccination rates.

    • Mariposags

      Thank you for the clarification.

  • Dr. Dan Oliver

    It is troubling that people immunizetheir children with vaccines that are grown in cancer cells, monkey kidneys,and chicken eggs. All those healthy flu vaccines grown in eggs, then centrifuged, and mixed with mercury which is injected into people. By the
    way mercury neurotoxin, and can lead to death. In the last thirty years the
    vaccine regiment for children have tripled and the amount of kids with Autism
    has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50 children staggering huh, there is even
    rises is autoimmune diseases. Injecting toxic substances into
    children is not the answer, and many diseases were wiped out with
    cleanliness and modern sanitation. If your child is injured by vaccines you can
    not even sue the manufacturer, they are protected by the 1986 National Child Vaccine InjuryAct. I have added a link http://canaryparty.net/index.php/the-news/97-research-that-shows-that-vaccines-can-cause-autism
    Look it up, and be informed on what you are really injecting into your child.

    • Dr. Very Real, M.D.

      I wonder if this person is a real doctor or not

      • Dr. Dan Oliver

        Thank you for your wonderful and witty response…. Yes I am a doctor and I hold degrees in Molecular Biology thanks.

        To continue on and to reply to the post below: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The following substances are found in flu vaccines: aluminum, antibiotics, egg protein, formaldehyde, human aborted fetal apparatus (dead human tissue), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and thimerosol (mercury).” At what levels vary in each batch, and what is a safe level of mercury to consume, well.. it is none.

    • mariposags

      You can eat more mercury by eating a can of tuna. The mercury compound you talk about has been the subject of several studies and deemed safe. Besides they have reduced it to trace amounts.
      Studies on Safety and Effectiveness of Thimerosal:
      Batts AH, Narriott C, Martin GP, et al. The effect of some preservatives used in nasal preparations on mucociliary clearance. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 1989; 41:156-159.
      Batty I, Harris E, Gasson A. Preservatives and biological reagents. Developments in Biological Standardization 1974;24:131-142.
      Beyer-Boon ME, Arntz PW, Kirk RS. A comparison of thimerosal and 50% alcohol as preservatives in urinary cytology. Journal of Clinical Pathology 1979;32:168-170.
      Gasset AR, Itoi M, Ishii Y, Ramer RM. Teratogenicities of ophthalmic drugs. II. Teratogenicites and tissue accumulation of thimerosal. Archives of Ophthalmology 1975;93:52-55.
      Goldman KN, Centifanta Y, Kaufman HF, et al. Prevention of surface bacterial contamination of donor corneas. Archives of Ophthalmology 1978;96:2277-2280.
      Keeven J, Wrobel S, Portoles M, et al. Evaluating the preservative effectiveness of RGP lens care solutions. Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists Journal 1995;21:238-241.
      Naito R, Itoh T, Hasegawa E, et al. Bronopol as a substitute for thimerosal. Developments in Biological Standardization 1974;24:39-48.
      Wozniak-Parnowska W, Krowczynski L. New approach to preserving eye drops. Pharmacy International1981;2(4):91-94.

      • Andrew

        In addition, the solution to Dr. Dan’s objections would not be to not vaccinate; it’s to better regulate the vaccination production process.

  • PorcelinaGrout

    KQED, thank you so much for making this data searchable. I looked at the data two years ago on the Ca. Public Health website and it was very hard to use (I think it was a PDF file.) Thanks for making it accessible. Unfortunately the same schools in my area that had high exemption rates two years ago still have them now. I think it is very irresponsible of these schools not to inform families about their high exemption rates, so that families can make an informed decision about whether to send their kids to a school with no herd immunity.

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