Despite two years of consecutive decreases across California, recently released data from the California Department of Public Health shows Santa Barbara County's kindergarten vaccination remains higher than the state's.
The newest data shows a greater number of local kindergartners received all required vaccinations, which include inoculations for infectious diseases like polio, chickenpox and measles.
At 96.7%, Santa Barbara County's kindergarten vaccination rate is not only higher than last year's — 96.5% — but also greater than the 94.8% reported across California.
"It's an accomplishment, really," Dr. Henning Ansorg, health officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, said of the county's latest vaccination rate. "Compared to five years ago, the vaccination rate has come up significantly."
Five years ago, at the end of the 2013-14 school year, Santa Barbara County reported a kindergarten vaccination rate of 92.1%, its lowest rate since 2003.
That year, roughly 1 in 21 students were exempted from state-mandated vaccination requirements due to their personal beliefs. Exemptions for personal beliefs were eliminated in 2016.
Ansorg said schools aim to have 95% of their students vaccinated, as it protects individuals with compromised immune systems whose health would be jeopardized by receiving a vaccination.
Although the overall county vaccination rate exceeds the 95% threshold thought to provide community immunity, nine schools fall below that mark.
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"Overall, they look encouraging, but at the same time [it's] concerning that we have these 'hot spots,'" Ansorg said.
A mix of public, private and charter programs, six of the schools with low vaccination rates are located on the South Coast, while the remaining three are in northern Santa Barbara County.
The three northern Santa Barbara County programs — Trivium Charter School, Trivium Charter School Adventure and Family Partnership Charter School — are exempt from state vaccination requirements due to their status as nonclassroom-based independent study programs.
San Luis Obispo County's overall kindergarten vaccination rate slid slightly, from 94.8% to 94.7%.
Despite the small drop, all schools in Lucia Mar Unified School District, which covers southern San Luis Obispo County, report vaccination rates at or greater than the community immunity threshold.
Four elementary schools — Ocean View, Shell Beach, Grover Beach and Dana — reported vaccination rates below the 95% mark during the 2017-18 school year.