The Associated Press has found that parents who send their children to private schools in California are more than twice as likely to opt out of recommended vaccinations than those whose children go to public school. This percentage increased by 10% last year despite the increase in whooping cough cases, which is at its highest since 1959. The percentage who opted out in public schools, on the other hand, remained the same for the first time since 2004. In California and 19 other states, parents can be granted an exemption from the vaccine requirement if such immunizations are contrrary to their “personal beliefs.”
Public health officials believe that in communities (which includes schools), at least 90% of indivudals must be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases. In this study, approximatley 15% of the 1,650 private schools examined failed to meet that percentage, compared to only 5% of the public schools studied. The highest percentage of children who did not have some or all of their vaccinations was at the Highland Hall Waldorf School in Northridge, where 84% of kindergartners opted out. Waldorf schools — which support holistic approaches to education and medicine, including the idea that childhood illnesses can be beneficial — represented 20 of the 25 schools with the highest opt out rates in the study.
It in unclear why the number of parents not vaccinating their children is so much higher in California private schools. A couple of professors commenting in the San Jose Mercury News speculated that it could be because wealthier parents can afford to spread out immnizations, or perhaps because those parents are more likely to question state recommendations. State Assemblyman Richard Pan (D) suggested to Fox News that, “In private school, these are people who have money, who are upper middle-class, and they are going on the Internet and seeing information and misinformation.”
One California private school parent told Fox News that she only felt it necessary to vaccinate for the deadliest diseases. “I don’t think dirt or getting sick makes you a weak person; your immune system needs to work with things,” said Bibi Reber, whose children attend the Greenwood School in the San Francisco Bay area town of Mill Valley. “We certainly don’t want to go back to having polio, but on the other hand, I don’t think we need to eradicate all the childhood diseases.”
Currently, there is a bill before Governor Jerry Brown that would require parents to discuss the choice of opting out of vaccinations with a pediatrician or school nurse before being allowed to make that choice.