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New school vaccination rules now in effect

No more personal-belief or religious exemptions allowed in schools

Children in California schools and daycare, both public and private, can no longer be exempted from vaccination requirements for personal belief or religious reasons under a new state law that went into effect in July.

The new law means home schooling is the only option for parents who have a personal or religious reason for opposing immunization of their children. An exemption from the requirements is still allowed for certain medical reasons if certified by a licensed physician.

There is a major loophole in the law, however, which allows children whose parents had filed a personal belief exemption before January 2016 to continue to go to school without vaccinations until the next time vaccinations are checked. That means a child who entered kindergarten last year with a personal belief exemption can go to school through sixth grade without vaccinations. Vaccinations are required for daycare and preschool, in kindergarten and seventh grade.

Previously, exemptions from the vaccination requirements were allowed because of personal beliefs or religious objections in addition to medical reasons.

The growing number of children not being immunized came under scrutiny in 2014 after a measles outbreak started in Disneyland and spread widely.

California public health officials say, depending on the vaccination, that between 80 to 94 percent of children need to be immunized to provide "herd," or community, immunity to those who can't be vaccinated such as infants, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems or unvaccinated pregnant women.

Some local schools had fairly high numbers of students with personal belief exemptions in last year's kindergarten class, according to a California Department of Public Health ShotsForSchools.org website.

Private schools tended to have the highest opt-out rates. The kindergarten class at Synapse School at 3375 Edison Way in Menlo Park had the highest in the Almanac's circulation area, with the parents of 13.8 percent of the students claiming personal-belief exemptions. Peninsula School at 920 Peninsula Way in Menlo Park had 11.1 percent personal-belief exemptions among its kindergartners.

The public school with the highest rate of personal-belief exemptions locally was Woodside Elementary School with 7.1 percent of the students in its kindergarten class.

Other local schools with high rates of children with personal-belief exemptions in their 2015-16 kindergarten class include Nativity School at 1250 Laurel, 8.8 percent; Beechwood School at 50 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park, 7.1 percent; and Philips Brooks at 2245 Avy Ave. in Menlo Park, 7.5 percent.

See a 2015 Almanac story about the issue Why Vaccinate?

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