California school vaccination rates are trending up

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The vaccination rate among children enrolling in kindergarten last fall increased for the second straight year statewide and in Southern California, according to state data released Tuesday. At the same time, many counties still have rates below the threshold public health experts say is needed to curb the spread of diseases.

Almost 93 percent of California kindergartners received all of their required immunizations as of December, 2.5 percent more than the previous year, according to figures from the California Department of Public Health.

Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties saw increases over the previous year; all now have vaccination rates of 90 percent or higher for all required immunizations, the level recommended by health officials to lessen the risk of outbreaks.

The Department of Public Health noted that 20 of California's 58 counties still fall below the 90 percent level.

INTERACTIVE: Look up the latest data for kindergartens across Southern California

The state defines all required immunizations as including four doses of the vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, three doses for polio, two doses of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella), three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine and one shot for varicella.

With regard to the MMR vaccine , 31 counties fell below the 95 percent immunization rate experts say is roughly needed to prevent a measles outbreak. 

The Department noted that, as in previous years, a higher proportion of students in public schools were fully vaccinated compared with those in private schools (93.2 percent in public schools vs. 88.2 percent in private schools). 

The percentage of incoming kindergartners excused from vaccinations because their parents opted for a Personal Belief Exemption fell slightly, to 2.38 percent, almost the same as the rate for the 2011-12 school year. Under a new state law, the Personal Belief Exemption will no longer be available to students entering kindergarten (or 7th grade, the other time when immunizations are required) for the 2016-17 school year. Exemptions will only be granted for medical reasons.

The public health department argued that the rate of Personal Belief Exemptions fell because of a 2014 state law that requires parents to consult with a doctor before they can get a Personal Belief Exemption for their child.

In addition, the department said the 2014-15 Disneyland measles outbreak "may have raised awareness of the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the benefits of immunization."

The state data contained a new category: it said there were nearly 1,000 students reported "as being overdue for one or more immunizations and so subject to exclusion until all requirements are met."