The Results Are In: California Made Kindergarten A Lot Safer

A controversial law ensures more parents vaccinate their children.

In California, health workers and infectious disease specialists just got some good news on the state's efforts to improve vaccination rates.

For more than 15 years, California has been battling growing — and unfounded — skepticism that a range of vaccines were unsafe for children. But after ridding themselves of a law that allowed parents to skip vaccines based on "personal beliefs," California saw some good news roll in: vaccine rates were up.

In the 2013-2014 school year, just 89.3 percent of the 486,526 children enrolled in reporting child care facilities received all required immunizations. That number, which according to health experts was dangerously low, rose to 95.6 percent in the 2016-2017 school year — a significant improvement in a short span of time. 

The record high in rates of vaccinations wasn't easy to achieve, but health care workers got a hand from lawmakers in the state.

In 2015, California passed a law that stopped parents from being able to decline vaccinations for their children "based on personal beliefs." While opponents said the bill was a violation of civil liberties, supporters were quick to point out that the bill made children in California safer.

Saad Omer, an Emory University in Atlanta researcher, has shown that measles and pertussis outbreaks usually happen in clusters of unvaccinated children. 

"You have this tinder that can start a fire," Omer told BuzzFeed News.

The 2016 law came after a similar 2014 law required parents to get a signed statement from a medical professional stating they had discussed the risks of not vaccinating their children. That law came as officials throughout the state tried to prevent unvaccinated children from showing up to kindergarten. Together, medical professionals and lawmakers believe they have helped reduce the rate of unvaccinated children in the last few years. 

"We have had several things that have been happening at the same time and we're not able to tease them apart individually," James Watt, chief of communicable disease control with the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento, told BuzzFeed News.

While it may be unclear exactly what caused the steep decline in unvaccinated children, what is clear is that the children in California are a lot safer because of it. 

Other states like Colorado and Arkansas still have a dangerously high number of unvaccinated children in elementary schools, and health officials are certain an outbreak is imminent. If they're smart, parents and lawmakers in those states should be keeping a watchful eye on the results in California.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Anton Watman

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