The recent measles outbreak, originating in Disneyland, has many worried, but for SCDS students, that fear may be unnecessary.
Like public schools, SCDS requires that parents of incoming kindergarten and seventh-grade students submit either proof that their children have received all of the required vaccinations, or a form stating that they have opted out of the vaccines for their children under the controversial Personal Belief Exemption (or the Permanent Medical Exemption).
Required vaccinations include diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP), of which children must receive five doses (four if one was given on or after the child’s fourth birthday); four doses of the polio vaccine; three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine; two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine; and one dose of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.
The Permanent Medical Exemption is granted if a person is medically unfit to receive the vaccinations.
For instance, if a child has a compromised immune system due to an autoimmune disorder, their doctor would grant a Personal Medical Exemption.
The Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) is used when a parent believes that their child should not receive the vaccination, for any reason.
Family practitioner Ben Leavy, father of sophomore Isabelle, said that one of the most common reasons for people to claim the personal belief exemption is “that the MMR vaccine is somehow connected to autism, which it’s not.”
Leavy also said that some people’s religions forbid vaccinations, or that they are paranoid about anything recommended by a government agency. He also says that many of these people are not willing to change their minds about the vaccines.
“Most of the time (people using the PBE) have their minds made up when they come into my office,” Leavy said.
“I don’t have many illusions about changing people’s minds on a vaccine that they have their mind set against.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, around five percent of kindergartners entered school without the required vaccines because they claimed the PBE.
This is double the statewide average, and around the upper threshold of unvaccinated students for herd immunization to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that measles herd immunity works if at least 83-94 percent of a given population is vaccinated.
Herd immunity is a tactic for eliminating (or drastically reducing prevalence of) a disease that relies on most of the population being immune. This means that if one person were to be unimmunized and contract a disease, it wouldn’t spread.
At Camellia Waldorf (5701 Freeport Blvd.), for example, 35 percent of the current kindergarten class is not vaccinated because of the Personal Belief Exemption.
Gateway International, only a mile and a half from SCDS, is even worse, with 37 percent of kindergartners going unvaccinated because of the PBE.
But for SCDS lower schoolers, that number is less than one percent, and for middle schoolers, around 4 percent, according to headmaster Stephen Repsher.
But despite this, lower-school head Christy Vail has a plan in case an SCDS student contracts measles.
If that happened, Vail said she would first talk to the Sacramento county public health department.
Then Vail would send out an exposure note to families notifying parents of students who are unvaccinated that they must stay home until the outbreak subsides.
However, Vail is cautious about excluding students from school unnecessarily.
“We wouldn’t exclude anybody unless there was an outbreak among our population,” she said.
Sandy Lyon, head of middle school, said she isn’t worried about an outbreak. “We’ll deal with (an outbreak) if it comes up, but no, I’m not worried,” she said.
Repsher has sent a message to division heads asking them to count the students who have not received their MMR vaccines due to the PBE.
Repsher said that it is often hard to find the exact number of students who are not vaccinated, as it is sometimes difficult to get that information from other schools if the students have transferred.
However, like Lyon and Vail, Repsher said he isn’t worried about a measles outbreak at the school.