By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Update, Feb. 2, 2015: The state of California has released opt-out rates at schools statewide for the 2014-2015 school year. They have dropped for the first time since 1998.

Original Post:

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.


PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.

The California Department of Public Health collects vaccination rates and PBE rates at every kindergarten in the state with more than 10 students — both public and private schools.  Further below, we’ve made it easy for you to look up your own school.

Entering kindergarten children are required to be vaccinated against:

  • Polio
  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTaP)
  • Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)

“We’re definitely concerned” about the increasing PBE rates, said Dr. James Watt, chief of the state’s division of communicable disease control. “We’ve been monitoring that. We’ve been increasing our analysis of the data to try to understand what’s happening with that trend.”

The biggest concern, he said, is not the overall statewide rate. But that growing rate signals that individual schools or areas may have very high PBE rates. “When those exemptions congregate in settings,” Watt said, “that’s the risk where disease transmission is greatest.”

In 2014 alone, California has seen outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. “We’ve been grappling earlier this year with a lot of measles brought back in from other countries,” Watt said. “We’re in the middle of a whooping cough epidemic.” The latest data from the state shows nearly 8,000 cases so far this year, and more than two-thirds of those hospitalized are infants younger than four months.

The state also experienced a whooping cough epidemic in 2010. Later research proved that vaccine refusal was a factor in the epidemic.

Under a new state law that went into effect on Jan. 1, parents who don’t want to have their children vaccinated now must meet with a health care provider to discuss risks and benefits of vaccines. The provider must sign a form that the conversation has happened and the parent must provide a written statement.

After a similar law passed in Washington state in 2011, the PBE rate dropped 25 percent in 18 months.  In California, the school year that is just starting is the first that makes this additional requirement of the PBE.

Watts said he hopes that the conversation with a health care provider “will help (parents) to come to decisions that will enable children to be protected against disease.”

In comparison to Marin’s 7.57 percent PBE rate, five other Bay Area counties have a significantly lower opt-out rates:

  • San Francisco: 1.64 percent
  • Santa Clara: 1.72 percent
  • Alameda: 1.78 percent
  • San Mateo: 2.26 percent
  • Contra Costa: 2.32 percent

Find Any School in California

You can look up the personal belief exemption rate at your own school below. So you can see the trend, we include data from the 2007-2008 school year through the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which data are available. This tool includes data from every kindergarten in the state, public or private, with 10 or more students.

The column to the far right — “PBE” — shows the percentage of children at a kindergarten with a personal belief exemption on file. The higher the number, the more children are not receiving vaccines. Enter your child’s school in the search box:

See the search tool on its own page.

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online 20 October,2015State of Health

  • lbhajdu1 .

    I was injured by a vaccine I got when I was two years old it still effects me today at 32 years old. I don’t have to believe or disbelieve I KNOW vaccines are dangerous. And I would have given anything to be able to go back in time and get out of them. Our doctor actually LIED to us and told us they where mandatory for school knowing that there were exceptions. He violated the AMA code of ethical conduct knowing that forcing a person into that particular medical procedure is not going to harm him, even though it did harm me.

    • jon jon

      Let’s be forth coming with the type of vaccine, and the type of injury you have as a direct result from the vaccine. I have had multiple vaccine and I’m fine.

      • lbhajdu1 .

        I’m not going to disclose, people can be quite cruel here, forgetting that this is something i have to live with every day. Sorry.

        • njh514

          It seems as though you’re wanting to tell your story to create a strong case for exemptions, but without details of any sort it hurts your credibility. As a young mom I want to know real stories from real people before I make my decision. Without details I can learn nothing.

        • Richie Tenenbaum

          I call BS.

    • TaviRider

      Even so, vaccines are a very good idea. You are far more likely to be killed or injured by the disease you are vaccinated against than to be killed or injured by the vaccine.

      • lbhajdu1 .

        I still feel being allowed to opt-out is also a good idea for people like me who have had there fill and these grubby mandates are misguided.

        • TaviRider

          I think everyone supports a medical exemption. If you have a medical reason to think that a vaccine will be harmful, by all means, skip the vaccination.

          But a belief exemption is nothing more than a threat to herd immunity. It endangers everyone.

  • JoAnn Collins

    Before letting them opt-out, require them to visit several countries West Africa or Southeast Asia, let them see how horrible polio and diphtheria are. Then ask them again.

    • Elyse Zois

      I knew people who had had polio. I got the Salk vaccine at age 6, but my friends’ older brothers and sisters had had to take their chances before the vaccine was discovered.

  • Richie Tenenbaum

    Vaccines opt-outs are a first world luxury, these parents should be ashamed.

  • Elyse Zois

    Opting out of vaccinations is like saying that you don’t care if your child gets sick with a possibly life-threatening disease just because you don’t want to support the drug companies.

    • Eric Durak

      Or – opting out of a vaccine because you know the safety of the drug is very low, and its effectiveness is even lower. Since over 97% of children nationwide are vaccinated, then the rise of the very diseases they are suppose to prevent are on rise directly correlate to the ineffectiveness of the vaccines themselves. With the CDC whistleblower case now in full force on the internet, it is only a matter of time that more parents and health professionals will opt out of these ineffective drugs. Also – with the recent UK report on measles in unvaccinated kids – the average impact on their health status was just under 14 days (PLOS One, Sept, 2014), So – most parents would rather deal with the mild to moderate symptoms of measles or mumps with proper care rather than be possibly burdened with a lifetime of chronic diseases (immune disruption, autism spectrum, ADD, T1D, brain injury, etc).

      • Dorit Reiss

        While nothing is 100% safe, serious adverse events from vaccines are very, very rare.

      • Elyse Zois

        From where are you getting these numbers? How many people do you know who are suffering from polio? How many have died of smallpox in the last half century? You may say that there’s no one to catch these diseased from. That’s because of those “”unsafe” and “ineffective” vaccines that children got before they were “enlightened.” True a very small percentage of children have impaired immune systems and shouldn’t be vaccinated but that’s a separate problem. For the vast majority, the benefits of vaccination far outweighs any risk.

      • John Lubeck

        I think you can spout all the nonsense and lies you can muster but none of it holds and scientific validity. In the mean time you are endangering the lives of your children and others. For that you should be put in jail where you belong.

  • Dorit Reiss

    It’s tragic that some parents forego this safe, simple protection for their children. There’s no rational reason for it, and it harms first and foremost the children unvaccinated and second the entire community, and especially those who cannot be vaccinated because of age or disease.

  • Sarah Lougheed-Gill


    Some journalists are erroneously using data that
    was pulled from the State of California Department of Health Services to report
    a skewed view of “herd immunity” at Walden School. The cited data is a snapshot
    of one report from the first month of school in 2013. With thousands of schools
    in California, it is an inefficient reporting system and many journalists are
    not reporting the full picture of what constitutes “herd immunity” at our

    The form filed in 2013, unfortunately, did not
    distinguish between delayed vaccinations (temporary PBE) and no vaccinations (permanent
    PBE). By publishing that in September 2013, 42% of Kindergarteners (or twelve
    out of 28 students) at Walden School were not vaccinated, journalists mislead
    readers because within a few weeks that number radically dropped to 3% as
    children’s 5-year wellness visits were completed and vaccinations were updated.
    Only one student out of 28
    kindergarteners last year filed a permanent Personal Beliefs Exemption (PBE).

    Vaccinations delayed by a few weeks after the
    start of the school year (because a child has not yet turned 5 years old) is
    not the same as delayed vaccinations for personal/religious beliefs (temporary
    PBE). Different again is the permanent Personal Beliefs Exemption (PBE) which
    means that parents have opted out of all vaccinations for their child. Because Walden
    School does not have a birthday cut-off date, some of our students complete
    their 5-year wellness checks after the first day of school.

    Since children are born on different days of the
    year, there is no magic one day when herd immunity can be codified for all
    schools. Probably for ease of collection, the State asks schools to report
    stats each fall on the incoming Kindergarten class for that year on the first
    day of school. But even that is not accurate, as different schools have different
    start dates.

    Herd immunity is established over time and the
    data used in this recent news cycle does not accurately portray actual community
    immunity at Walden School (and probably is misleading for other schools, too,
    due to the inefficiency of the State reporting system). In recent school years,
    across our entire student body, between
    94 -96% of students have met all vaccination requirements and/or documented
    history of disease. The CDC and the World Health Organization have estimated herd
    immunity thresholds for vaccine-preventable diseases in ranges from 75-94%
    depending on the specific contagious disease.

    In January 2014, a new form was developed by the
    State and this fall’s report to be filed by the schools addresses some of the
    data collection issues. The form Walden School filed this September
    distinguishes the number of kindergarteners with all required immunizations
    and/or documented history of disease from the number of kindergarteners
    exempted from any immunizations due to Permanent Medical Exemptions (PME), or
    Personal Beliefs Exemptions (PBE). These students are counted as Unconditional

    Students with a PBE are further quantified
    between “Pre-January 2014” exemptions, “Health Care Practitioner Counseled”
    exemptions, and “Religious Exemptions.” Two students filed a PBE this year (out
    of 29 students in Kindergarten).

    Conditional entrants are also documented on this
    year’s form. These are students who have a temporary medical exemption because
    they have not yet met all of the required immunizations but are on a delayed
    vaccination schedule and these kindergarteners require follow up documentation.

    The State of California Department of Health
    Services advises that in case of an outbreak of any one of the diseases for
    which a child is not vaccinated, that child may be temporarily excluded from
    attending school for his/her protection.

    Like any other health concerns you have about
    your child, consult your health care professional about what is best for your
    child with regards to vaccinations.

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