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Rising number of vaccination exemptions could put California schools at risk

Just a couple years after California adopted one of the toughest child vaccination laws in the country, immunization rates have increased from 93 to 95 percent.

However, medical professionals are now finding a dangerous increase in the number of California parents using medical waivers to avoid vaccinations for their children.

A Los Angeles Times study found that the number of kindergartners in California with a vaccine exemption from a doctor has quadrupled since the law took effect.

As back to school shopping lists are scratched off, there’s another requirement parents must meet. California law mandates that all kids must be immunized before attending school.

“I think it’s good for them, you never know where kids are or where parents are or where they’re going or what’s going to happen,” said Nicole Galassi. Galassi has three children, all of whom are vaccinated but the Santa Maria mother respects parents right to make that decision.

The law, which passed after a measles outbreak at Disneyland, makes the Golden State just one of three states that bar parents from citing their personal beliefs to avoid having their children vaccinated.

“It’s a tough decision to make because you get all this information, the pro, information on the con, so a lot of times we’re stuck on the fence,” said Jose Alvarez, a Santa Maria father.

The only way to opt out is to get a doctor to sign off on an exemption, and medical experts say that’s becoming a problem

“There’s no school that’s going to have a quarter of their kids have true medical exemptions. That’s why we suspect many of these medical exemptions are obtained by parents who shop around, find a physician who willing to provide these and that that’s probably unethical,” said Dean Blumberg, UC Davis Pediatric Infectious Diseases Chief.

Health professionals say concentrations of parents in mostly small private schools are abusing the medical waivers and in some schools, as many as 25% of children did not have their vaccinations.

“It’s part of that misinformation that is out there. You end up then with a vulnerable population of people out there who are now exposed, and we don’t know what that means, does it mean that we just increased the risk to the general population?” questioned Alvarez.

State Senator Richard Pan is contemplating legislation that would tighten the state’s vaccination laws even further while health experts suggest an audit.

“Another way around this is to have the medical exemptions investigated to see whether the children really have true contraindications to vaccinations that the medical board, for example, could investigate those and so that’s another way around it besides passing new laws,” said Blumberg.

Vaccination advocates say children are at greater risk for diseases, like measles, in schools where less than 95 percent of the students are immunized.

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