There’s good news and bad news to report about how Humboldt County is doing under California’s recently adopted vaccine requirements for its students.
More and more Humboldt County kindergartners are getting vaccinated: While only 82 percent received all required vaccines during the 2015-2016, school year — before Senate Bill 277 took effect — that number’s since gone up. For 2016-2017, 86.7 percent, and for 2017-2018, 88.4 percent of our county’s kindergartners were fully vaccinated.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad:
Our county still lags beneath statewide rates, which have increased from 92.8 percent for the 2015-16 school year, to 95.1 percent last school year.
Some schools here don’t even clear the 80 percent threshold vaccinated mark for all required vaccines, making them vulnerable to viral outbreaks. As we reported Sunday, the following schools in Humboldt County are its “most vulnerable,” according to the state Department of Public Health:
• Trinidad Union Elementary: 73 percent;
• Blue Lake Elementary: 70 percent;
• Alder Grove Charter in Eureka: 66 percent;
• Coastal Grove Charter in Arcata: 47 percent;
• Mattole Valley Charter in Petrolia: 43 percent.
Even worse, the number of kindergartners in our county who have obtained permanent medical exemptions is more than 16 times higher than before the vaccination law took effect. In 2015-16, five kindergartners countywide had permanent medical exemptions The following school year, that number grew to 16. This last school year, that number shot up to 86 — 5 percent of our county’s kindergartners.
These numbers don’t pass the smell test. Never mind the demand — local doctors in private practice and working for Open Door Community Health Centers agree that the need for medical exemptions is exceedingly rare. That so many parents are obtaining them at clinics that typically provide medical cannabis recommendations not only threatens public health, but also gives opponents of the decriminalized cannabis industry easy ammunition. It would be a public relations disaster for Humboldt County’s emerging legal cannabis industry — the medical benefits of which have always been met with skepticism in some quarters — if it were to essentially enable an otherwise preventable outbreak.
As North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood told this newspaper: “Science tells us that the population needs to have a 95 percent vaccination rate to prevent outbreaks of contagious diseases. I believe in science and anything below that level is disturbing. Science also tells us that only about 3 percent of people have a medical reason for not tolerating vaccines, so we need to make sure that the exemptions being written by health care providers are medically valid and if they’re not, we need to hold the people writing them accountable.”
Yes. Yes, we do. Someone in Sacramento needs to take another look at the law, and tighten it.