AB 2109, a new California law that began January 1, 2014, changes the process for parents to request immunization exemptions for their children. "The purpose of this new law is to better inform parents about the benefits and risks of immunizations," said Lynnan Svensson, Supervising Public Health Nurse with the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency.
The new law affects students entering child care or kindergarten, or advancing into the 7th grade, whose parents or legal guardians request to waive required immunizations for school due to personal beliefs. The law also affects children transferring into California schools from another state or country.
Under AB 2109, parents or legal guardians who choose to waive required immunizations must first meet with a health care provider to receive education about the benefits and risks of immunizations as well as the dangers of vaccine preventable diseases. Both the parent or legal guardian and the health care provider must sign the new Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) form. The completed PBE form must then be turned in to the school or child care provider before the student attends, along with a valid record of any immunizations the student has received.
Svensson is hopeful the new law will have a positive impact on immunization rates in El Dorado County. "Childhood immunization rates have begun slipping over the last several years, while requests for immunization exemptions have increased," explained Svensson. "The Personal Belief Exemption rate for kindergartners in El Dorado County is now 8.2%, while the overall rate in California is only 2.8%."
"Our concern is that as fewer children are immunized, we will begin to see large-scale and potentially serious disease outbreaks among school children and the community at large," said Svensson. "Children who become sick can spread illness to their classmates, family members and others. Immunizations are one of the best ways to protect our schools, children and the community from serious diseases like pertussis and measles."
El Dorado County schools have joined with local health officials to help inform the public about AB 2109. Immediately after AB 2109 went into effect, the El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE) implemented it at the county level and provided support to school districts.
"The safety and health of our students always comes first, and we moved quickly to comply with this new law," said EDCOE Superintendent of Schools Jeremy M. Meyers. "Our goal is to help parents and caregivers understand the new law and its requirements. We ultimately want to ensure that school-aged children are healthy, so that they are ready to attend school and prepared for future success."
The El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency recently launched a new "Live.Love.Vaccinate" campaign and website to provide helpful information about childhood immunizations and the requirements of AB 2109. The website can be found at www.edcgov.us/publichealth. Additional information, including questions and answers about AB 2109, can be found at: www.shotsforschool.org