Vaccine Exemption Rate Drops in San Diego

The measles outbreak that started in Disneyland wound up sickening nearly 150 people in seven states, including 14 in San Diego County.

Some children who got sick were too young to be immunized, but most of the people infected were unvaccinated by choice.  This outbreak could likely have been prevented if people who were exposed to the highly contagious respiratory disease had been immunized.

April 18-24 is National Infant Immunization Week, and the County Health and Human Services Agency is urging parents to make sure their children are fully immunized against measles and the 13 other childhood diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.

“The measles vaccine is one of the most effective immunizations we have these days,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “Immunized people can expect up to 97 percent protection after getting the two recommended doses of the vaccine.”

Locally, the number of children who lacked all or some of the recommended vaccines had been steadily increasing until last year when the California Department of Public Health changed the process for parents to get a Personal Belief Exemption (PBE). The new form must be signed by a health care professional and a parent or guardian when seeking an exemption from required vaccinations.

Since then, the percentage of San Diego County kindergarteners with a PBE for childhood vaccinations dropped from 4.5 percent last school year to 3.5 percent this current year. What this means is that out of the nearly 44,000 kindergarteners enrolled in local schools, 1,518 were missing some or all of the recommended vaccines. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends infants get immunizations at birth, 2, 4, 6, 12-15, and 18 months of age to protect them against many diseases, including measles, mumps and whooping cough. An annual flu shot is also recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

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Babies are not the only ones who should be vaccinated. Parents, older siblings, grandparents, health care professionals, and babysitters also need to be up to date. High immunization coverage levels mean fewer people get sick.

“Vaccines are safe and effective and the best way parents can protect their children against disease,” Wooten added. “The lower number of kindergarteners with a personal belief exemption is a step in the right direction.”

Vaccinations help protect local children and the general public from disease. Countywide immunization efforts are part of the County’s Live Well San Diego vision, which aims to improve the health and well-being of local residents. Parents should ask their doctor or clinic to check their child’s immunization record and make sure their baby is up-to-date.

National Infant Immunization Week was created in 1994 to remind parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers to ensure infants are fully immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases.

For more information on immunizations and the diseases they prevent, parents should contact their health care provider, visit or call the County Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact