In response to the troubling number of children whose parents opt out of vaccines for them, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has published an interactive online map of vaccine rates for schools and licensed child-care facilities with at least 15 children at each site across the county.
The screen shot above shows the map. When you visit the site you can click on any of the dots, and a box appears to show you the name of the school, its address and rate of "personal belief exemptions." While state law requires that every child be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, parents can opt out by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE), a signed statement that vaccines are against a parent's beliefs.
Paul Leung, immunization program manager for Contra Costa Public Health, said the goal of producing the map was to increases awareness. "Many community members may not realize this dangerous, disturbing trend of parents choosing to skip vaccines for their children," he said. "It not only puts these kids at greater risk of serious, dangerous diseases like measles and polio," but it also puts others at risk, he said, including those who cannot be vaccinated, such as babies, and children or adults too sick to be vaccinated.
The map color-codes schools by PBE rates -- green is a PBE rate of 2.9 percent of less; yellow is 3-9.9 percent; red is greater than 9.9 percent.
"There's not much wiggle room," Leung said. "We need about 90 percent of our community to be immune. What we've done with our maps is highlight schools where 10 percent or more of their incoming kids have exempted from vaccines, so these schools are more vulnerable to vaccine-preventable outbreaks."
Contra Costa Health Department says the kindergartens at five elementary schools and students at 22 child-care facilities had PBE rates above 9.9 percent. The schools are both public and private. East Bay Waldorf School, a private school in El Sobrante, has the highest PBE rate in the county, 50 percent, CCHD says. In 2008, county health officials briefly closed the school due to a whooping cough outbreak.
The statewide average for personal belief exemptions is 3 percent.
In January, a new state law went into effect, requiring parents seeking a personal belief exemption to first meet with a health care provider to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccines and to learn more about vaccine-preventable illnesses. Washington passed a similar law in 2011, and its personal belief exemption rate has dropped by 40 percent.
Contra Costa's data are for the current school year -- schools are all required to report vaccination rates and PBE rates to the state after school starts in September. The state has not released its data for all counties for this school year as yet, but if you live in one of California's other 57 counties, you can look up your school's vaccination rates for 2012-2013.