As health experts continue toÂ combat vaccine fears and myths with pamphlets and explainers, as politicians rush to install stricter rules on vaccination requirements for school children, and as fiery feuds about the life-saving medicines continue to rage onlineâ€¦ something is workingâ€”at least in the state of California.
On Tuesday, officials there reported a 2.5 percent increase in vaccination rates of kindergarteners attending public and private schools. For the 2015-2016 school year, 92.9 percent of the stateâ€™s more than half a million ankle-biters were up to date on their shots. Thatâ€™s up from 90.4 percent in 2014 and 90.2 in 2013, the state reported.
The vaccination data tracks shots that prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTAP); measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); polio; hepatitis B; and chicken pox.
The rise in vaccinations may be linked to last yearâ€™s continued backlash to the anti-vaccine movement, which claims vaccines are linked to autism, among other baseless assertions. The counterblast seemed to become particularly intense after an outbreak of measles at Disneyland struck early in the year. The disease, which in 2000 had been declared eliminated from the country by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sickened more than 100 people in the outbreak and spread to seven states and two countries.
The incident stoked public fears about the consequences of skipping vaccination. It also sparked Californian politicians to pass a law eliminating personal belief exemptions, which let parents opt-out of vaccination schedules for personal rather than medical reasons. But the law does not go into effect until July 2016.
“It’s unfortunate that fear or outbreaks of disease are necessary to get people to do what we’d like them to do, but I think that’s human nature,â€ Art Reingold, head of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, told NPR.
Despite the improving vaccination rate, Californians arenâ€™t out of the woods yet. In 2015, 13,000 kindergarteners started school unvaccinated thanks to a personal belief exemption. And about half of the stateâ€™s 58 counties reported a vaccination rate lower than the approximately 95 percent thatâ€™s needed to maintain herd immunityâ€”a threshold of vaccination levels that effectively prevents diseases from spreading.