California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Report: Private School Children More Likely To Lack Immunizations

In California, parents with kids in private schools are more likely to skip immunizations for their children than parents who send their kids to public schools, according to an analysis by the Associated Press, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.

For the report, AP analyzed data from state immunization surveys of schools with at least 10 kindergarteners.

Main Findings

The AP analysis found that the percentage of children entering private schools without all or some of their immunizations is more than two times greater than in public schools.

The analysis also found that:

  • The number of children entering private schools without all of their immunizations increased by 10% in 2011, while the opt-out rate in public schools remained the same for the first time since 2004; and
  • 110 private schools statewide had more than 50% of kindergartners who skipped some or all of their immunizations.

According to the analysis, about 15% of the 1,650 private schools surveyed by the state did not reach an immunization rate of 90%, which public health officials believe is necessary to minimize the potential for a disease outbreak. The study found that 5% of public schools failed to reach the threshold.

Reasons for Skipping Immunization Shots

According to the analysis, parents cited a variety of reasons for not immunizing their children, such as:

  • Belief that getting sick helps children build a stronger immune system;
  • Concern that the shots could cause illness; and
  • Religious values.

The analysis found no explanation for why more patients who send their kids to private schools decided to skip immunizations.

Neal Halsey -- a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Johns Hopkins University -- said parents of private school children tend to be more skeptical of state mandates and recommendations.

Saad Omer-- a professor of global health at Emory University in Atlanta -- suggested that more parents who send their children to private schools are wealthy and have time to spread immunization shots out over a series of years or stay home with their kids if they get sick.


Public health officials say that no matter the reason parents opt out of vaccinating their children, the result is a higher risk of an outbreak of pertussis -- or whooping cough -- and other communicable diseases.

Robert Schechter -- medical officer with the immunization branch of the state Department of Public Health -- said public health officials are "very concerned" that schools with lower immunization rates "are places where disease can spread quite rapidly through the school and into the community" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 9/10). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.