Sonoma County at center of anti-vaccine debate

Whether it?s a decision of the well-informed, non-traditional, alternative or paranoid, vaccinations are not considered a must-do by many North Bay parents.

Long gone are the days when vaccinating infants and toddlers prior to kindergarten is done as a matter of course and without question. Especially in western Sonoma County.

A study conducted by the Los Angeles Times reveals that the North Bay, and Sonoma County in particular, is a hot bed of anti-vaccine sentiment. Of the 13 schools in the state with the highest percentage of kindergartners with exemptions from vaccination requirements, three are in Sebastopol. Of the 50 schools with the highest rates of exemptions, six are in Sonoma County and two in Marin.

There is not much drop-off after that: of the 255 schools with the highest exemption rates, 34 ? 13.3 percent ? are in Sonoma and its neighboring counties.

?It doesn?t surprise me,? said Carol Rogers, director of Orchard View School, an independent study charter school in Sebastopol.

Orchard View kindergarten parents opt out of vaccinations at a rate of 67 percent. The state average is 2 percent.

?Sebastopol has traditionally been a pretty liberal area,? Rogers said. ?It?s the more alternative lifestyle of people who choose not to immunize their kids. They are educated about it and they have their views.?

Most public health experts lament the drop in vaccination rates, fearing of a return of communicable diseases that have been eradicated in the United States.

Last year, a 7-year-old boy triggered a measles outbreak in Southern California after contracteing the disease while on a family vacation in Switzerland. His parents had chosen not to vaccinate him or his siblings.

Vaccinations have been at the center of a sometimes heated battle among parents, physicians, scientists and public health experts over the benefits versus the risks.

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