In recent years, many parents in Marin County and other communities have made the decision to opt out of vaccinations, completely or partially. This controversial practice places the health of all school children and their extended communities in jeopardy. When surrounded by a significant population of unvaccinated children, even fully vaccinated students are at risk of contracting potentially dangerous diseases, such as pertussis. For the small number of truly medically-vulnerable children who cannot be vaccinated, the risk of contracting a vaccine preventable infection skyrockets. Senate Bill 277 was passed in 2015. The law requires that incoming kindergarteners in California have up to date immunizations. Medical exemptions are allowable, but new personal belief exemptions will not be honored. For those students who had PBEs prior to SB 277, the law allows them until 7th grade to complete immunizations. Ross Valley Charter’s unacceptably low vaccination rate threatens the health of all of their students, teachers, and staff as well as the health of the community at large.
Of 129 RVC students:
- 67 are fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277, California’s mandatory vaccination law.
- 26 have a status that is not clear, absent the student's birth year, from the information RVC provided via a public records act request. An additional PRA has been submitted to ascertain if these children are fully or partially vaccinated.
- 25 have personal belief exemptions (PBE).
- 10 have personal medical exemptions (PME).
- 1 student is partially vaccinated, was conditionally admitted, and is catching up on a conditional schedule. The law allows for this.
Assuming a best-case scenario—that the 26 whose status is not clear are indeed fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277—the charter's vaccination rate is 73%. In a worst-case scenario, if all 26 are not fully vaccinated, it is 54%.
As noted earlier, all personal belief exemptions that were on file prior to the implementation of SB 277 are valid until those “grandfathered” children, currently grades 2 through 6, reach 7th grade. The majority of RVC’s 25 PBE students are concentrated in the older grades. Per California law, new PBEs are no longer accepted at any campus-based school, and those 25 students will need to be compliant by 7th grade in order to attend any campus-based school in the state.
A curiously high 8% of RVC students have personal medical exemptions, or PMEs. There is no school in RVSD with so high a percentage. Four medical practices provided nine legally acceptable letters of exemption. Three of the medical providers are recommended on an anti-vaxxer website:
*Dr. K Paul Stoller, Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic of SF issued 3 of the PMEs. His website speaks volumes: https://www.jabevalscalifornia.com/
*Dr. Ron Kennedy, Anti-aging medical clinic in Santa Rosa issued 2 PMEs
*Dr. Thomas Cowan – Holistic Family Medicine in SF issue one. He shares an address with Fourfold Healing and this website: https://fourfoldhealing.com/pages/about-us
*The fourth PME provider, Pediatric Alternatives in Mill Valley, issued three. We note that one of the ten PMEs did not have an accompanying letter.
In order to compare apples to apples data to capture a snapshot of how RVC vaccination rates compare to RVSD rates, we look at the 2017-18 Kindergarten reports that were submitted to the state by November 1, 2017:
Percentage of TK/K students who are fully vaccinated as defined by SB 277:
- RVC: 61% - RVC TK/K Report
- Brookside: 93% - Brookside TK/K Report
- Hidden Valley: 96% - Hidden Valley Kindergarten Report
- Manor: 89% - Manor Kindergarten Report
- Wade Thomas: 97% - Wade Thomas Kindergarten Report
What does this mean for our community? It means that herd immunity at RVC is threatened. It means that—by extension, on buses and sports teams, and at grocery stores and at White Hill as well as schools attended by RVC siblings—we, as a community, are no longer immune to the terrible diseases from which SB 277 is intended to shield us. It means that our most vulnerable—the very young, very old and immuno-compromised—are at unnecessarily high risk. From the campus currently rented to a preschool with vulnerable toddlers, to our middle school from which the kids return daily to homes throughout the entire Ross Valley, there is no campus that can safely house this school.
Herd immunity is meaningfully diminished below 80%, the point below which the CDC identifies communities as "most vulnerable."
It is worth repeating that only 73% of RVC students are fully vaccinated in a best-case scenario (the number is quite likely lower), and that even fully-vaccinated children are at risk when there is an outbreak at a shared campus.
It should be noted that a "community cluster", such as RVC, of unvaccinated children compounds the likelihood of an outbreak that spreads even more so than the raw data suggests. This article from the Washington Post explains the "community cluster" concept very well.
In 2010, a year in which several California infants died from pertussis (whooping cough), there was an outbreak in Marin County. The greatest concentration of cases was at Manor and Wade Thomas. The 2014 Marin outbreak was even worse. According to Harvard Medical School, in order for the pertussis vaccine to be effective, a vaccination rate of 92-94% must be achieved.
SB 277 was written to specifically address such dangers. According to the California Department of Public Health, “Schools with low vaccination rates are at increased risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Some children are allowed by California law to skip immunizations if a parent submits… a medical exemption (PME) at enrollment. Other children may be admitted to school on the 'condition' that they complete any remaining vaccinations when due. Until follow-up is complete, 'conditionally admitted' children remain under-vaccinated.”
It is the clear legal responsibility of the Prop 39 charter's overseer, the CDE, to hold the school accountable to follow state law 277 and ensure that all of the children are up to date with their vaccinations. Please contact Tom Torlakson (Superintendent@cde.ca.gov), SBE (SBE@cde.ca.gov), Mary Jane Burke (firstname.lastname@example.org), Marc Levine (email@example.com) and Mike McGuire (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ensure the charter follows the law.
We note that Marc Levine has accepted thousands of dollars from pro-charter interests and has been non-responsive to us, his constituents. He has failed to reach out to his colleagues at the CDE to request that they do their job. As such, it might be helpful to instead contact California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, who might embrace our request that he and his colleagues pressure the CDE to step up and look carefully at RVC compliance. Voting districts have clear boundaries, but contagious diseases do not. It is a state-wide interest that our valley not become ground zero for the next deadly outbreak.
The second installment of this analysis, including updated statistics regarding the status of the 26 students whose initially provided data (without age) did not make clear if they are SB 277 compliant, will be published in the new year. That information will also determine the rate of fully vaccinated children (as defined by SB 277) at RVC, which is somewhere between 54% and 73%. The public records request has already been submitted. There are several credible resources for vaccine safety and information. This one is very useful:
For those of you who need a bit of levity after reading this sobering information, we leave you with one of our favorite people sharing a perspective on vaccination opt-out: John Oliver. Happy holidays, folks.