The Truth About California’s Vaccination Rates

Apr 10, 2015 · 8 min read

April 10, 2015

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We don’t get it, really.

But, hey, we’re just a bunch of Oregonians up here in the woods.

Still, we’re very puzzled: why is California trying to take away the rights of all its citizens by making all vaccinations mandatory for all children?

It never made any sense when Senator Richard Pan’s Oregon equivalent up here — Oregon Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward — tried to do it last month in Oregon and it doesn’t make any sense in California now — because the data doesn’t remotely support the policy goal of SB277.

What really happened in Oregon?

You’ll hear a lot of different stories about why Oregon’s Senate Bill 442, which would have done exactly what Senator Pan’s Senate Bill 277, is trying to do, died last month in the Oregon Legislature.

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We have a pretty simple explanation: enough legislators listened to the actual facts about what was going on in Oregon that they realized the state’s system for immunizing children was already working quite well, and onerous legislation would only generate ill will, violate rights, and anger their constituents.

Senator Alan Bates, a pediatrician who had been a co-sponsor of SB 442, summarized his change in position succinctly:

“The decision was made yesterday afternoon to kill the bill and we won’t be bringing it up in the foreseeable future…The intention was to get more parents to immunize. We’re hearing that they do immunize but they don’t want us to tell them what to do. We do listen, believe it or not.”

They listened. They pulled the legislation. Done deal.

Our learning from that process could be summarized in the following way:

What works

  • Respectful, one-on-one meetings between constituents and their elected officials
  • Real data and real details that allow for an elected official to quickly understand the facts
  • Appealing to simple concepts like medical freedom and informed consent — this is particularly true with any Republicans or Libertarians
  • Respected organizations opposing the legislation

What doesn’t work

  • Trying to convince legislators that vaccines do more harm than good
  • Trying to convince legislators that vaccines cause autism
  • Accusing legislators of being in the pocket of Big Pharma

What was true in Oregon is true in California

What was really true in Oregon is also really true in California: vaccination rates are at historical highs, vaccine exemptions and how that data is captured are largely misunderstood, very few children have received no vaccines, and parents who vaccinate on a selective schedule are typically very informed and work closely with an informed health care professional to take care of their child. California is safe, its children are protected from deadly disease, and the parents are behaving responsibly.

Luckily for us, Oregon’s immunization program had been so successful that the Director of the Oregon Immunization Program had put together a whole presentation extolling their accomplishments that many parents were able to share with the Oregon legislature, here’s just one slide from that deck:

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“Record low vaccine preventable diseases.”

“Achieved and sustained high childhood immunization [rates]”

The Oregon Immunization Program has achieved a lot, and it was getting dragged through the mud, due largely to a misunderstanding of what “vaccine exemption” actually means, which this slide did an incredible job of explaining to anyone who asked:

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California’s data: high vaccination rates, declining PBEs

What was really true in Oregon is also really true in California: vaccination rates are high! Check out the slide below, California’s children are vaccinated at rates at or above national averages for every vaccine.

Moreover, California’s recently introduced AB 2109 — requiring parents to meet with a medical provided in order to get a vaccine exemption — appears to be working, with a nearly 20% decline in Personal Belief Exemptions (PBEs) since the law was passed!

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Exemption does not mean “unvaccinated”!

Furthermore, California is suffering from the same misinterpretation of what a vaccine exemption actually means (it’s often misinterpreted to mean a child is “unvaccinated”), and parents need to educate their legislators!

Consider the following:

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Clear up exemption confusion!

Vaccination exemptions are really confusing. In Oregon we found that the most effective way to clear up this confusion was to show legislators — many of whom do not have school age children — the actual vaccination form and explain it to them.

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When legislators saw the form for themselves, they realized that SB442, and therefore SB277, would exclude a child from attending school who skipped even a single booster shot!

We hope California parents will take the time to walk legislators through the details and remember that these legislators are paid to make policy. They should know that AB 2109 is WORKING!

Another point that really works against legislators like Senator Richard Pan is that the United States is now vaccinating for certain diseases with very low levels of communicability.

Measles is obviously very contagious and everyone can agree on that point, but Hepatitis B is not. In fact, children in California are allowed to go to school even if they have Hepatitis B!

When we walked legislators through a thoughtful decision tree that some parents use when deciding how to vaccinate their children, most of them understood:

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They also appreciated learning that part of why parents are so focused on vaccinations and on being careful with the vaccine schedule (which means getting an exemption) is that we give more vaccines to children than ever before, that the number has been rising very recently, and far more than any other country:

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Here’s a slide explaining the exemption classification issue in California:

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Exemption weighting makes it even more confusing in California!

When proponents of SB442 in Oregon realized we had unearthed all the data showing that Oregon already has very high immunization rates and the exemption data is very misleading, they changed the argument to talk about “community immunity” or the need to protect pockets of much lower vaccination rates, which is also very misguided, as we hope this slide will assist you in explaining:

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Getting granular: Contra Costa County

Just for fun, we took a closer look at one county — Contra Costa — to prove that the “non-issue” is pretty much a “non-issue” everywhere you look in California. Perhaps every California legislator needs to see this data for their district?

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When all else fails, bring up measles!

As we all know, the hype over the “Disneyland Measles Outbreak” has painted a target on the back of California parents using Personal Belief Exemptions. Fortunately, the facts support you and your children, and we hope you can get these facts to legislators:

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And, finally, to summarize all these points:

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California, we love you! You give us sun during our darkest months and we’re proud to have you as our southern neighbor — please come visit us (but don’t stay too long, we love not having traffic problems!) Oh, and we have lots of water…

Some final thoughts:

  • Stay polite and professional, even though you are hopping mad
  • Get organized, and have constituents meet with their representatives
  • Share the facts and the details, all of which support the position that additional vaccine legislation in California is completely unnecessary
  • Remember that legislators make policy, remind them that AB 2109 is working
  • Get non-parents into the argument. Remember, most Americans are pro-vaccine AND pro-parental choice. Every single national poll we have ever seen shows that Americans do NOT want forced medical procedures and do NOT want the state to dictate medical care. Conduct a poll of Californians and share the results with the Assembly. (We pulled the poll below off the USA Today site today)
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  • We keep hearing about the “immunocompromised” — please read our companion piece to learn what’s actually TRUE:

The Truth About Vaccines and the Immunocompromised

This article was written by several well-meaning Oregonians who are big fans of medical freedom and informed consent who apparently have nothing better to do than crunch numbers. We have nothing to gain or lose financially from the passage of this bill. We have proudly joined a movement of a few thousand Oregonians fighting this legislation, the organizing website can be found here: We have written a series of articles on this topic, in chronological order they include:

Part 1: The truth about Oregon’s vaccination rates

Part 2: Who cried wolf in Oregon

Part 3: What’s NACCHO got to do with Oregon’s vaccine exemption fight?

Part 4: Exemption-gate in Oregon?

Part 5: No mas, Senator Steiner Hayward, no mas

Part 6: Oregon Senator Steiner Hayward: Blameshifter in Chief

Part 7: Senator Steiner Hayward’s SB 673: Drilling for Mandatory Gardasil Shots for Kids?

Part 8: Sneaky Steiner Hayward’s “Lilly Rider”: 23rd Hour Change to SB 895

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