The Press Democrat –August 15, 2017
With many Sonoma County school districts starting classes this week and next, local public health officials and doctors are urging parents to get their children vaccinated before the first day of school — it’s state law.

This is the second school year in which personal and religious belief exemptions are no longer allowed, except in limited cases. Only children with medical exemptions will be allowed to enter school without being vaccinated.

Dr. Angela Zarate, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, said she’s been receiving “countless” emails from parents wanting to know if they should bring their kids in for the required vaccinations.

“Even compared to last year it’s happening more,” Zarate said. “I think there’s more effort to get the kids in.”

The law, under Senate Bill 277, established the strictest immunization requirements in the nation for kids in public and private school. It was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 and went into effect during the 2016-2017 school year.

The new requirement led to an increase in vaccination rates for children entering kindergarten in Sonoma County, from 92.1 to 93.4 percent, county public health officials said. But even prior to SB 277, another law — AB 2109 — added a number of requirements for parents seeking personal belief exemptions.

AB 2109 likely drove vaccination rates for kindergarten kids from 90 percent during the 2014-15 school year to 92.1 percent the following year when it was implemented.

Dr. Karen Milman, the county’s health officer, encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated if they haven’t already.

Milman said vaccinations protect children from otherwise preventable diseases, protect the schools and keep diseases such as measles from spreading. She said high vaccination rates at schools lead to a critical level of immunization called “herd immunity,” which helps stop the spread of diseases.

“Vaccinations are incredibly important to protect your child and those around them,” Milman said.

Milman said school vaccination rates are reported to the state by each school. It takes about five to six months for the state department of public health to compile the data and send it back to county health officials.

Personal belief exemptions are still allowed in limited cases, but their number in Sonoma County has plummeted from 327 last year to 92 during the 2016-2017 school year, according to state vaccination data released in the spring.

Meanwhile medical exemptions rose from 15 to 109 during the same period.

Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, said some parents who have medical exemptions for their children will have to get a new one if they are changing from elementary to middle to high school levels. For example, a child entering the seventh grade who is changing schools must get a new medical exemption.

“Even if they’re on the medical doctor’s waiver they’ll have to get a new one,” he said. “It’s in every child’s interest to have students immunized.”

Herrington said parents who choose not to immunize their children jeopardize “another student that has health needs in the school setting.”

 This article first appeared in The Press Democrat