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.
There has long been a belief in some circles that the rising rate of autism is linked with vaccinations, particularly the mercury contained in some. Other parents opt out because of family histories of asthma or other health issues that they believe could be exacerbated by the multiple doses of the vaccines.
But in February, those raising a red flag about vaccine safety were dealt a blow when a special federal court ruled that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, and vaccines that contained a mercury-based preservative, were not connected to the autism that developed in three children at the center of a particular case.
A mom at Sunridge Charter School in Sebastopol, where parents of 76 percent of kindergartners obtained exemptions from vaccines, said she has no concern that her daughter, who was immunized, will suffer among peers who are largely unvaccinated
Parents at Sunridge are more conscious and wary of traditional western medical practices but do not look down on her for her decision, she said. She requested that her name not be used.
In 1994, Harmony School in Occidental suffered an outbreak of whooping cough. In that case, 120 of Harmony?s regular pupils were ordered to take antibiotics or keep their children home for weeks as a precaution. The disease, also known as pertussis, was traced back to an aide who was infected.
It is unclear how many of Harmony?s students were immunized when the 1994 outbreak struck. Today, 32 percent of kindergartners there have not been immunized.