Despite New Vaccination Law, Sutter County Sees Drop in Student Immunization Rates

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SUTTER COUNTY -- Students in Sutter County seem to be lagging far behind their counterparts in the rest of the state when it comes to keeping up to date on their required immunization shots, and school officials don’t seem to know why.

Because of a state law that kicked in last summer, all California students now must be vaccinated in order to enroll in a public, private or charter schools without any exemptions for religious reasons.

And so far, the law seems to be working in every county except Sutter.

"We noticed that our kindergartners were vaccinated at 5 percent less than our previous year,” said Amerjit Bhattal, Sutter County’s Public Health director. Bhattal says that was the first tip-off that something was off with their immunization numbers.

According to the California Department of Public Health, which conducted a statewide measure of seventh-graders, Sutter is one of the only counties to see their seventh-grader vaccination rates drop from the previously recorded year. Of the few counties whose rates went down, it was by far the most significant decrease -- nearly 8 percent.

Last school year only 85 percent of seventh-grade students in Sutter County were up to date on their vaccinations. Measured by county, the average statewide was beyond 98 percent of students.

Sutter County School Superintendent Baljinder Dhillon was unaware of the extent of the issue.

"That we were that low, no I was not. I will definitely look into it now that you brought that to my attention,” said Dhillon.

"We're working with the department of public health to determine what the reasoning is,” said Bhattal.

Bhattal says the figure may be skewed because of independent study students, or students who are homeschooled but follow a curriculum from an educational center in Sutter County. At this point though, she says there’s no hard evidence to back that up.

"Yeah, I think it's alarming. I think it shows us a high rate of un-immunization,” said Dean Blumberg, UC Chief of Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Medical Center.

He says there are still preventable diseases that un-immunized students can be susceptible to.

If roughly 15 percent of Sutter County's seventh-graders remain unvaccinated, Blumberg says, it will remain a serious problem.

"If there's less immunity, there's increased risk of disease, increased risk of outbreaks,” said Blumberg.

"In order for children to stay healthy in our communities, we should be vaccinating them,” said Bhattal.

The Sutter County Public Health Department is hosting extended hours for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations. Those hours are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m. - 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.