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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include CUSD’s current immunization rates and the number of confirmed measles cases from the CDC.
By Shawn Raymundo
More than 700 confirmed cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. this year, making 2019 the highest on record this decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of reported measles cases in 2019 has far surpassed last year’s total of 372 and last week exceeded the 667 total confirmed cases that occurred in 2014.
As of April 26, the CDC had found 704measles cases across 22 states, including California, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. In California, there have been a total of 38 confirmed cases, six of which were in Los Angeles.
The county of Butte in Northern California has seen the highest number of confirmed cases in the state, with 16. Thirteen of those cases in Butte were among adults; three were found in children.
The influx of measles cases has reignited concerns among health officials regarding unvaccinated children.
Ryan Burris, spokesperson for the Capistrano Unified School District, recently said that all of the notices for parents to have their children vaccinated ahead of the next school year have been sent out. The notices, he added, state that children won’t be able to attend class next year if their vaccination records aren’t up to date based on state law.
Amid a measles outbreak in Rockland County, N.Y., that was declared an emergency late last month, nearly 6,000 unvaccinated children were pulled from schools. Officials from the county said such children would be banned from public places including schools, churches and shopping centers, the New York Times reported.
The ban was placed on hold earlier this month by a New York state judge.
The Rockland County outbreak began in October and has since reached 194 confirmed cases of measles, according to the CDC’s latest data.
Citing California’s Health and Safety Code, Jorge De la Cruz, public information officer for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), told The Capistrano Dispatch that a similar protocol is in place in the state.
“California law (Health and Safety Code Section 120370 (b) ) permits exclusion of unimmunized children from school during outbreaks,” Cruz wrote in an email. “The need to exclude children, and the number of children affected, depends upon the details of the specific outbreak.”
According to CDPH, schools do have the authority to exclude children from classes if they don’t “meet the statutory school entry vaccination requirements,” while state and public health officers also have the authority to keep such kids out of schools.
In 2016, Senate Bill 277 was enacted, eliminating the exemption from vaccinations based on personal belief.
According to Burris, the district’s immunization rate is currently at 96%, with 46,310 of the district’s 48,252 students having the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
Nearly 200 students in grades K-12 are temporarily exempted for MMR, while 625 students, or 1.3%, are permanently exempt, according to Burris. And currently, there are 1,118 students in grades 2-6 and 10-12 who are grandfathered under the existing personal belief exemption from before the 2016 law.
Cruz said CDPH has been encouraging parents to vaccinate their children through media campaigns and has worked to increase and monitor immunization rates by working with local health departments, specifically in distributing doses of the influenza vaccines.
“CDPH monitors the occurrence of measles and promotes multiple activities to increase immunization throughout California,” Cruz said in the email. “While California still experiences outbreaks of measles . . . immunization rates have increased substantially in recent years, increasing protection of communities against measles.”
Across the state, Cruz noted that between the 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 school years, the rate of kindergarteners reported as having all required immunizations jumped from 90.2% to 95.1%. The rate of personal belief exemptions, he said, dropped from 3.2% in the 2013-2014 school year to zero in 2017-1018.
After the 2016 law, CUSD saw an increase in vaccinated kindergarteners from nearly 73% in the 2013-2014 school year to 90.2 percent in the 2016-2017 school year, according to a report the Orange County Grand Jury released in May 2017.
The report also noted that while CUSD’s rate of unvaccinated children had sharply decreased, it still remained below the “recommended herd immunity threshold” of 92-94%.