Mountain View Voice

News - October 7, 2011

Small number of students skip vaccine

Health official says no need for concern over whooping cough risk

by Nick Veronin

A small percentage of local students opted out of an all-but-mandatory whooping cough vaccination this year, school officials from both Mountain View districts said.

By signing a waiver, the parents of 51 high school students and 14 middle school students released their children from the vaccination, which is required of all seventh- through 12th-graders in California this year.

State Assembly Bill 354, which was signed into law near the end of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's last term, mandated the vaccinations and came in response to what state and county health officials identified as an "epidemic" of whooping cough — a respiratory disease, which is particularly dangerous for the very young and the frail — that swept across California in 2010.

Parents were allowed to exempt their children from the vaccination for a variety of reasons, including religious beliefs, health concerns and other personal reasons.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, a health official with Santa Clara County, said that neither school district has a reason to worry with so few of its students opting out of the vaccine. Mountain View Whisman's opt-outs make up less than 1 percent of the entire student body; at Mountain View-Los Altos the number is just over 1 percent.

While it would be ideal to have every individual in a population vaccinated, that is an unreasonable expectation, Fenstersheib said. Furthermore, with more than 95 percent of the Mountain View student population vaccinated, he said that all schools in both districts should have what is called "herd immunity," meaning that even if one student did contract whooping cough, the chances of it spreading are extremely low.

"They've done a great job," Fenstersheib said. "That's a very small percentage of students that have opted out."

The doctor said that most parents opt out because of religious or personal beliefs. While he took caution not to be critical of such beliefs, Fenstersheib said scientific evidence demonstrates that when enough people in a population forgo vaccination against any disease, they do so at their own peril. There is no evidence that suggests the vaccine against whooping cough has any negative side effects, with the exception of a very few people who have had bad reactions to the vaccine, he said.

A nurse from the Mountain View Whisman School District and the superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos School District said they were not concerned with the number of students in their respective districts that have gone without the vaccine.

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