Vaccination refusers
Tide of 'belief exemptions' grows in California

About this project

Thousands of California parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, despite last year's record-setting whooping cough outbreak. And the number is growing, much to the alarm of pediatricians and state health officials. Over the past decade, "personal belief exemptions" (PBEs) have tripled. Signed by parents, the exemptions allow children to enter school missing some or all vaccines. Statewide, more than two percent of kindergarteners have such exemptions. With a 9.5 percent PBE rate -- more than four times the state average -- Santa Cruz County is close to ground zero in this often heated and emotional debate. State experts say that as long as 95 percent of a population is immunized, "herd immunity" keeps contagious diseases from spreading. But vaccine refusal tends to concentrate in geographical areas like northern Santa Cruz County, where close to 17 percent of incoming kindergarteners had PBEs on file last fall – one of California’s highest rates. "If they were scattered fairly evenly around the state, the implications would be much less concerning," said Dr. Rob Schechter, medical officer with the Immunization branch of the state Department of Public Health, which collects the statistics on student immunizations. "The fact that they are concentrated in communities, social networks and schools with much higher rates -- that allows disease to spread much more rapidly."

Stories

As vaccinations decline, threat of outbreaks grows

And the number is growing, much to the alarm of pediatricians and state health officials. Over the past decade, "personal belief exemptions" have tripled. Signed by parents, PBEs allow children to enter school missing some or all vaccines....

Doctor agonizes over parents' stubornness on vaccinations

It may be decades later, but Dr. Elizabeth Baskerville still cries when she remembers the little girl. Four years old. Dead of meningitis. The day she read the news in the paper, the child’s name had sounded familiar. Baskerville went to her office...

Mother torn amid conflicting advice on vaccinations

Savitri Jones has always tried to live a natural lifestyle. After the arrival of her four-and-a-half-year-old twins, Lucia and Kai, that seemed even more important. Kai has Down syndrome, and a relatively fragile immune system. All the vaccines her...

Authors

Jocelyn Wiener

Jocelyn Wiener is an Oakland-based writer for the Center for Health Reporting.

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