[UPDATE, October 21]: Six cases of pertussis have now been diagnosed at The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara, according to the county public health department.
Unless a parent files an exemption form for personal or medical reasons, state law requires children at the pre-K, kindergarten, and 7th grade level to be immunized against a number of infectious diseases including pertussis, hepatitis B, measles, and others. State law that went into effect this year requires parents be informed about the benefits and risks associated with vaccinations by a physician before submitting this form.
Seventy-two percentage of children at the Waldorf Early Childhood program opted out of some or all vaccinations, according to state records. This school year, 31 percent of children at the preschool are not immunized against pertussis; 16 percent are partially immunized against pertussis, according to the school.
[UPDATE, October 20]: Five cases of pertussis have now been confirmed at Waldorf School Santa Barbara. The fifth case was confirmed over the weekend; the first was reported on October 10.
On Sunday, the school issued this statement:
“The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara does all it can to ensure the safety and health of the children inour school. This includes requiring parents to immunize their children according to California state standards. We encourage all parents to consult with their physician regarding their immunizations. WSSB continues to work with the Public Health Department, Goleta Union School District Officials and Hope School District Officials to take steps to ensure the safety of our community during the current statewide pertussis epidemic.”
[ORIGINAL REPORT]: Four cases of pertussis, or whooping cough as it’s known, have been diagnosed at The Waldorf School of Santa Barbara lower campus, which shares a site with the Vieja Valley Elementary School in Hope District. The children are ages four to seven. At the Waldorf preschool, 72 percent of families have opted out of getting their child vaccinated for personal belief reasons. Across the country, Waldorf schools tend to have high personal belief exemption rates. County Public Health Director Dr. Takashi Wada said with some concern the opt out rates are getting higher, and some prominent area pediatricians are deciding not to accept children who have not gotten all of their shots.
“I would view that as a pretty critical public health problem for us,” said Dr. Wada. Public health experts say that the threshold “herd immunity” requires 92 percent of children to be vaccinated. A child can be diagnosed with the disease even if he or she has been immunized.
There have been 78 cases of pertussis in the county so far this year, which translates to a 17.9 case rate — lower than the statewide rate of 22.9 (per 100,000 population). As of October 7, there have been 8,749 cases reported in California, which is about three times higher than it was in the same time frame last year.
North County schools tend to have lower personal exemption belief rates while South County has pockets of high opt-out rates. “That’s a concern for us,” Wada added. Less than a year ago, the state public health department created a website to publicize the exemption rates broken down by schools.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that spreads through coughing or sneezing. The illness can be very dangerous, especially for infants and one-year-olds. It is also cyclical, and public health officials see an uptick every three-five years. For instance, four years ago, county public health officials saw a rise in cases, 66, and two years ago the number was down to 11 cases. Last year, there were 28 cases.
To promote immunizations, public health officials have launched campaigns, partnered with schools, and created an online map to show the location of every licensed child-care facility that has 10 or more students.