Grand Jury: Humboldt’s Vaccination Rate Too Low

Humboldt County’s Grand Jury has called attention to the county having the fifth-lowest vaccination rate in the state and one of the highest personal belief exemption rates.

And at its June 28 meeting, the county’s Board of Supervisors seconded the Grand Jury’s findings.

Supervisors considered the first of a series of Grand Jury reports that focuses on Humboldt’s ranking 54 out of 58 state counties for vaccinations of kindergarteners and seventh-graders in schools.

In its report, the Grand Jury found that “there is a risk of a contagious disease outbreak due to the percentage of children who are not currently vaccinated in Humboldt County.” Whooping cough is a particular concern, as Humboldt has the second-highest rate of the disease in the state, according to the report.

The county has an 82 percent vaccination rate, while the state average is 92.9 percent.

The county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) disagreed with the Grand Jury’s recommendation to develop a plan that “addresses lack of transportation as a barrier to receiving mandated vaccinations.”

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg supported the DHHS’s responses to the report and highlighted the continued need to promote the benefits of vaccination.

“It’s not necessarily transportation that’s the issue, it’s either education or just a values-based decision that parents make based on whatever they have come across,” he said. “Hopefully we can get more information out there so parents know that it is safe.”

The DHHS’s reply states that in surveys, transportation “was not identified as a major barrier to receiving vaccinations.” The agency did agree that “vaccination data oversight” should continue and that information on vaccination should be made available to parents.

The Grand Jury report notes the work of the Humboldt Immunization Coalition, which was formed by the DHHS and is carrying out “a community-wide outreach program to improve vaccination rates for county school-aged children.”

Board Chair Mark Lovelace said that it takes a lot of work to counter misinformation on vaccination. Despite an “overwhelming amount of science” supporting the value of vaccination, he continued, “People will grasp onto some anecdotal story that gets circulated on the web and use an unproven anecdote to support a position in opposition to all of the science that’s out there.”

The Grand Jury report states that its probe into the county’s vaccination rate was motivated by the passage of SB 277, a bill that was signed into law in the spring of 2015 and removes the personal belief exemption as a basis for parents to refuse vaccination of their children.

Supervisor Rex Bohn highlighted the risks posed to other children when vaccinations are refused, saying that wariness of exposure to disease has impacted Humboldt First Five’s play groups.

“Some of the play groups for First Five are coming apart because some parents will not bring their kids to a play group if they can’t guarantee that everybody’s been immunized,” said Bohn.

He added, “When we’re ranking 54 out of 58 counties, we need to look at something, for sure.”

No one spoke during a public comment session.

The Grand Jury’s report emphasizes the importance of implementing the new state law and credits the work of the Humboldt County Department of Public Health, the Humboldt County Office of Education and Humboldt County schools for “their diligence in initiating the implementation of SB 277.”