Private school parents less apt to have kids vaccinated than public school counterparts, AP analysis indicates
The state surveys all schools with at least 10 kindergartners to determine how many have all the recommended immunizations. The AP analyzed that data and found the percentage of children in private schools who forego some or all vaccinations is more than two times greater than in public schools.
More troubling to public health officials is that the rate of children entering private schools without all of their shots jumped by 10 percent last year, while the opt-out figures held steady in public schools for the first time since 2004.
Public health officials believe that an immunization rate of at least 90 percent in all communities, including schools, is critical to minimizing the potential for a disease outbreak. About 15 percent of the 1,650 private schools surveyed by the state failed to reach that threshold, compared with 5 percent of public schools.
There were 110 private schools statewide where more than half the kindergartners skipped some or all of their shots, according to AP's analysis, with Highland Hall Waldorf School in Northridge — where 84 percent opted out — topping the list.
Parents cite a variety of reasons for not immunizing their children, among them: religious values, concerns the shots themselves could cause illness and a belief that allowing children to get sick helps them to build a stronger immune system. Likewise, there's no single explanation that accounts for why so many more parents who send their children to private schools apparently share a suspicion of immunizations.
Saad Omer, a professor of global health at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied vaccine refusal in private schools, surmised more private school parents are wealthy and have the time to spread five shots over a series of years and stay home should their child get an illness like chickenpox. Neal Halsey, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University, said parents who choose private schools are likely to be more skeptical of state requirements and recommendations.
Bibi Reber, whose children attend the Waldorf-inspired Greenwood School in Mill Valley, had her children vaccinated only for what she sees as the deadliest diseases. Greenwood has a 79 percent opt-out rate among its kindergartners.
"I don't think dirt or getting sick makes you a weak person; your immune system needs to work with things," said 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
Public health officials say that, regardless of why parents choose not to vaccinate their children, the result is the same: an increased risk of an outbreak of whooping cough or other communicable diseases.
"We're very concerned that those schools are places where disease can spread quite rapidly through the school and into the community, should it get introduced," said Dr. Robert Schechter, medical officer with the Immunization Branch of the California Department of Public Health.
That's what prompted the Legislature to approve a bill requiring parents to discuss vaccinations with a pediatricians or a school nurse before they can opt-out. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of September to sign or veto it.
State Assemblyman Richard Pan, a pediatrician, who sponsored the bill, said he believes private school parents are more apt to mistakenly believe that the vaccinations themselves could be more dangerous than the diseases.
"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," said Pan, D-Sacramento.
Increasing immunization rates for this population is critical to controlling the outbreak of diseases, he said. "Have you ever seen a child cough themselves to death? It's not pleasant," he said.
Those who choose not to vaccinate their children see the legislation as meddlesome and unnecessary.
"It's making an extra appointment and paying extra money to go in there and essentially get permission to do what I feel is right for my family," said Dawn Kelly, who sends her unvaccinated 5-year-old son and partially vaccinated 9-year-old son to Monarch Christian School in the Los Angeles area.
Like many parents who refuse some or all immunization shots, Kelly worries her children's immune system could be overwhelmed by getting too many vaccines at once.
Melani Gold Friedman, president of the parent association at Highland Hall Waldorf School, is concerned with what the legislation means for families who normally consult with acupuncturists, holistic healers or other alternative practitioners.
"The bill has an assumption that everyone's seeing one particular kind of doctor, but the people who are opting out, chances are they're not seeing that kind of doctor," she said.
Vaccination opt-out rates nationwide have been creeping up since the mid-2000s, spurred in part by the belief the battery of vaccinations routinely given to infants could lead to autism. Several major studies have discredited that idea.
Parents are allowed to forego vaccines for philosophical reasons in California and 19 other states. Of those, only Washington requires parents to consult with a physician. And, in California, there's no difference between private and public schools when it comes to what's required for parents to opt out — they simply sign a document. The state recommends that kindergarteners receive five vaccine progressions, including protections against Polio, Hepatitis B and Measles
Politicians and public health experts across the nation are focusing more attention on childhood immunizations, driven by a re-emergence of diseases like whooping cough. The U.S. is in the midst of what could be its worst year for that disease in more than five decades, with nearly 25,000 cases and 13 deaths.
After whooping cough reached epidemic levels in California in 2010, the state took action, embarking on a public information campaign and increasing the availability of vaccines. A law was passed requiring booster shots for older students.
Yet the opt-out rate continued climbing in private schools. It's more than doubled since 2004, to 2,228 kindergartners in last year's state survey. While the overall rate of full immunization among kindergarteners hovers around 91 percent, places where the opt-out rate is greater could pose a risk for outbreak.
In 2008, East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante closed temporarily after whooping cough sickened more than a dozen students, eight of them kindergartners. The San Francisco Bay Area school had a vaccination rate of less than 50 percent.
State health officials are tracking the divergence of opt-out rates in private and public schools, but are not planning any studies or outreach efforts targeting this pupil population. The state is conducting a general education campaign to boost vaccinate rates.
The AP analysis found 20 of the 25 California private schools with the highest opt-out rates are "Waldorf schools," a loose association of institutions founded on the teachings of 19th-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner. He favored a holistic approach to education and medicine and thought childhood illnesses could be beneficial.
Officials at these schools would not comment about Pan's bill but say they trust parents to make the best decisions for their children's health.
"Parents who are brave enough to say, `No, that's not the right thing,' should be supported," said Patrice Maynard, spokeswoman for the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
- I live in CA and I agree that attendance in public school requires vaccinations. However, I must say that two nearby private schools I am aware of also require the standard vaccinations for attendees. Makes one wonder what the actual requirements and enforcement are, if some do not.
- If I had a child who was too young to be vaccinated and that child caught a preventable illness from your unvaccinated child, I would sue you for gross negligence. You don't have the right to place all of society at risk because of your dumb opinions on vaccinations.
- The reason public school children are vaccinated is because they can't attend if they aren't.
who are brave enough to say, `No, that's not the right thing,' should
be supported," said Patrice Maynard, spokeswoman for the Association of
Waldorf Schools of North America. "
AWSNA spokeswoman, Patrice Maynard, is mentioned in this article http://www.wave3.com/Global/story.asp?S=1364683&nav=0RZFGxHZ
where she excuses a teacher who duct-taped children to their chairs. She currently teaches at the teacher training center at Highland Hall (the school that tops the list for unvaccinated children). http://www.waldorfteaching.org/waldorf_institute_faculty.shtml
- "Kids have been subjected to far worse things than duct tape in the public schools."
AND in Waldorf schools... but at least it's frowned upon in public schools... in fact teachers can get fired over that sort of thing. NOT in Waldorf schools... it's all part of the program - and has the approval of AWSNA.
- Waldorf schools are extremely problematic and their lack of concern for the safety of children is legendary. Parents who have seen the problems in Waldorf *up close* have expressed their concerns here: http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/ Waldorf representatives seem to feel no obligation to provide truthful responses to questions raised by parents and reporters.
- Parents who have problems with the Waldorf schools are under no obligation to take their kids there, and nobody is obligated to to respond to reporters. I love how anyone who doesn't toe the government line and get every vaccine that's recommended gets tagged as having a "lack of concern for the safety of children". Some vaccines are beneficial (like the DTAP), some are unnecessary for kids (like Hep A, etc. which are primarily STDs), and some are worse than the disease, like the chicken pox vaccine, which they found out the hard way needs at least one booster and carries an increased risk of shingles vs. just getting the chicken pox. My son and many others got a milder, but longer-lasting (he had symptoms for over 2 months) form of chicken pox after getting the vaccine as an infant.
who have problems with the Waldorf schools are under no obligation to
take their kids there, and nobody is obligated to to respond to
Ah but they DO respond to parents and reporters... just not TRUTHFULLY. Of course parents aren't obligated to take their kids there, but many do based on what the schools falsely claim to promote (or not promote). Schools ARE obligated to be honest... otherwise they're committing fraud (this is what Waldorf does regularly). Don't blame parents (or even reporters) for believing what the school tells them. People generally tend to trust people in authority... speaking of which... this is one reason why SO MANY families in Waldorf environments aren't vaccinated... When young families are sucked into the cult-like environment of Waldorf, they feel obligated to trust that the teachers know best. Since Waldorf teachers are typically less educated than their public-school counterparts, I have found no reason for this blind trust in Waldorf environments.