Here at the San Mateo County Office of Education, we are committed to ensuring all 95,000 students in our county have everything they need to be healthy so they can come to school ready to learn.
The State of California eliminated the personal belief exemption for immunizations and requires that all medically eligible children receive vaccines for a number of potentially serious diseases before attending public or private school.
Immunizations are safe
Vaccines are some of the most extensively tested and highly regulated medicines available. They are licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and go through rounds of review and clinical trials to ensure a high degree of safety. As with all medicines, there are risks of serious side effects, but those risks are small compared to the benefits of being vaccinated. Lastly, there is no link between vaccines and autism, and the idea that there are negative health effects when multiple vaccines are given at the same time has been disproved.
Immunizations protect others who can't be immunized
There are currently about 20,000 kids in San Mateo County who cannot be immunized—either because they're too young or because their immune systems are compromised. The only way for these children to be protected is if a critical percentage of the population has been immunized. This percentage is called the "immunity threshold" and can be different for different diseases. This puts at risk the lives of children who can't be immunized for medical reasons.
Immunizations effectively eliminate dangerous diseases
Even the diseases we consider mild today, such as chickenpox, can present complications serious enough to land children in the hospital. Vaccines are the best way to protect people from these diseases without being exposed to their complications.
Epinephrine Injectors (EpiPens)
As of January 1, 2015, all schools in California are required to stock at least one epinephrine injector, which is used in case of a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, and hives, and the quick use of epinephrine can save someone's life.
Approximately one in thirteen children suffers from a food allergy, but severe allergies often aren't diagnosed until a child is exposed to the allergen. The California Department of Education estimates that about 25% of students have their first anaphylactic reaction at school, which is why it's so important for schools to be stocked with EpiPens.
Each school must designate one or more staff members to volunteer to attend annual trainings on the use and storage of epinephrine injectors. These volunteers learn how to recognize the symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, how to use the injector, and how to perform emergency follow-up procedures.
For more information on State policy concerning EpiPens, please visit the California Department of Education website.
An electronic cigarette, or an e-cigarette, is a battery-powered device that vaporizes liquids, allowing users to inhale them. Many of these liquids contain nicotine, though some are nicotine-free.
Although the use of e-cigarettes, known as "vaping," is often touted as a safer alternative to smoking, there is no government oversight of the manufacturers or the devices themselves. According to the American Lung Association, lab tests conducted by the FDA found detectable levels of carcinogens, or cancer-causing chemicals, in two brands of e-cigarettes and 18 cartridges.
These companies also aren't regulated in the same way as traditional cigarette companies when it comes to marketing to young people, which is having an alarming effect. A 2014 study found that children were actually using e-cigarettes at higher rates than regular cigarettes, and that number is growing every year. In San Mateo County, 10% of ninth graders and 15% of eleventh graders say they've used e-cigarettes four or more times.
A number of districts and the San Mateo County Office of Education have updated their tobacco policies to prohibit the possession and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes.
Schools are also working to inform students that possession and use of e-cigarettes is illegal for students who are under 18 years of age, and a number of districts are providing informational workshops on the health risks of e-cigarettes for students and parents.
For more information, visit the American Lung Association website.