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Should It Be Harder to Get Vaccination Exemptions?

The Marin County Board of Supervisors throws its support behind a state bill to require parents to get a letter from their pediatrician before they can receive a “personal belief exemption.”

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to back a state Assembly bill that would make it more difficult for parents to obtain a “personal belief exemption” for state vaccination requirements for school entry.

The bill, AB 2109, was introduced by Assemblyman Richard Pan, who represents the 5th District north of Sacramento. The bill requires parents seeking the exemption to submit a document signed by a pediatrician or healthcare professional stating that he or she informed the parent about the risks of not immunizing the child. While state law requires kindergartners to be vaccinated for diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) before they can attend school, parents who object to the vaccination often cite the personal belief exemption for their refusal to allow their children to be vaccinated. The Assembly passed the AB 2109 in early May and it is currently at the committee level in the state Senate.

“The personal belief exemption has been the default position of parents who haven’t gotten their kids vaccinated and we really want to make sure that every child in Marin has the benefit of a vaccine for a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Larry Meredith, the director of the county’s Health and Human Services department.

The vaccination debate came to a head in 2010, when county health officials and and lack of education for a . The TDAP vaccine against whooping cough is free of the additive thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that has been the subject of a long-running public debate about whether it can cause autism. A federal ruling in March 2010 said there was no connection between autism and thimerosal.

“There is no evidence that there are any problems with vaccines,” Meredith said, noting that while there may be other reasons for parents to seek exemptions, they can simply do so by going through their pediatrician.

Vaccines have long been a hot button issue in Marin, where the exemption rate is significantly higher than it is statewide. In 2011, the exemption rate in Marin was 6.8 percent, down from 7.1 percent in 2009 and 2010 but up from 4.2 percent in 2005. Marin’s rate was the 13th highest in the state and significantly higher than the California rate of 2.4 percent (see charts at right).

In Larkspur, Corte Madera and Kentfield, only four schools with kindergarten classes have rates higher than the rest of Marin, with Marin Montessorit at a 22 percent exemption rate. See the list below for all seven schools and their exemption rates in 2011.

 

School Personal Belief Exemption Rate Lycee Francais Int'l 10 percent Marin Country Day 13 percent Marin Montessori 22 percent Marin Primary 13 percent St. Patrick's 0 percent Bacich 2 percent Neil Cummins 3 percent Source: Marin County Dept. of Health

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