Number of children immunized a concern
Nevada County has launched a new educational campaign aimed at improving the area’s alarmingly low childhood immunization rates.
First 5 California Children and Families Commission’s immunization campaign was inspired by a real concern for relatively low levels of immunity among Nevada County children, said Cynthia Schuetz, First 5 community health coordinator.
Seventy-eight percent of children entering kindergarten in Nevada County are immunized compared to 93 percent of children statewide, according to a 2005 report by the California Department of Health Services.
“There’s a big gap,” Schuetz said, “and those statistics jumped out to First 5 commissioners.”
Reports of whooping cough are on the rise nationwide, mainly because people aren’t getting vaccinated, she said. In January, several cases of whooping cough were reported among western Nevada County students ages 6 to 13 years old, with no cases of whooping cough appearing so far in the Truckee area. However, the reports of the bacterial disease – known as pertussis – highlighted the need for immunization among school-age children.
California law requires all children entering school to be immunized against 11 different infectious diseases, Schuetz said. However, a large percentage of children aren’t getting immunized through various loopholes in the state law. Nineteen states in the United States have passed a law to give parents the right to forgo the required vaccinations because of their philosophical or personal beliefs, she said.
“In California, it’s really very easy. Parents just sign a form,” Schuetz said. “Nevada County has the second highest percentage in California for personal-belief exemption: 11.4 percent of parents claim personal-belief exemption, compared to 1.33 percent in California.”
In a recent parent survey, Schuetz said some parents opted to waive childhood immunization because of a distrust of pharmaceutical companies, a distrust of the government or because they prefer to use alternative medicine. Many parents said they didn’t know where to go for immunizations or didn’t have transportation, she said.
The required vaccination can also be waived with a medical exemption, a conditional exemption, or a child might be partially immunized with the intent to complete vaccinations at a later date, Schuetz said. Elementary schools in both Truckee and Kings Beach showed low personal-belief exemption percentages, but a higher percentage of conditional exemptions for children entering kindergarten, she said.
Schuetz said the goal is to present parents with as much information as possible about vaccination, the commitment of the public health field and the critical nature of community immunity.
The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District has been proactive for years about childhood immunization, said Lisa Abrahams, a school district nurse. The district audits immunization records periodically to keep track of children with conditional exemptions who aren’t fully immunized, she said. Abrahams said raising community awareness through education will help address the issue.
“I think it’s really do-able,” Abrahams said. “Some parents just need to know what’s required of them.”
As a form of public outreach, the Nevada County Department of Public Health is organizing immunization clinics in Grass Valley and Truckee this spring, said Dr. Joseph Iser, the department’s public health director. A mobile van to provide immunizations in the Tahoe region is also in the works, he said. In addition, the health department will answer callers’ questions during an upcoming live discussion that will explore both sides of childhood immunization on the local radio station KVMR (89.5 FM in Grass Valley and 105.1 in Truckee), Iser said.
And the push for county-wide immunization affects more than just children.
“The entire community has to be at a certain immunity level – called community immunity – to protect everyone (from disease),” Schuetz said.
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