California is auditing more than 600 schools for allegedly failing to reach student vaccination targets or file vaccination reports. But critics say the numbers are misleading and the audit is driven by Big Pharma and political interests.
The California Department of Health (CDPH) is threatening to restrict funding for the more than 600 schools being audited by the state because they reported more than 10% of their kindergarten or seventh grade students were not fully vaccinated last year or because they failed to file a vaccination report with the state, EdSource reported.
“Schools found to have improperly admitted students who have (not) met immunization requirements may be subject to loss of average daily attendance payments for those children,” the CDPH said in an email.
CDPH posted the audit list, which included 449 schools with kindergarten students, 175 schools with seventh graders, 56 schools with both grades and 39 schools that had not filed a vaccination report.
California students are considered “not fully vaccinated” if they have not provided proper immunization records to their school, if they don’t have the vaccinations required by the school system or if they have been admitted to schools conditionally while they are in the process of finishing their school-mandated vaccine series, according to the state audit guide.
If a student behind on the vaccine requirements has not received a first dose of a required vaccine within 10 days of starting school and a second dose of a required vaccine within four months of the first dose, the student must be excluded from school.
The audit guide indicates that to determine whether schools have students behind schedule, auditors check whether kindergarteners have two doses of a varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and two doses of a measles vaccine and whether seventh graders have two doses of varicella and one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), their sixth pertussis-containing vaccine.
Oakland Unified School District, with 48 elementary schools and eight of the seventh grade schools on the list, has the highest number of schools being audited. Los Angeles Unified has 75 of its non-charter schools on the audit list, while Pomona Unified has 13, San Francisco Unified 14 and San Juan Unified in Sacramento County, eight.
The vaccination audit has been occurring in public schools only since the 2021-2022 school year, when 45 schools made the list.
Schools in violation of the state law must submit corrected attendance reports that reflect the reduction in average daily attendance cited in the audit finding, which will likely reduce their funding, according to CDPH spokesperson Scott Roark.
Sensationalizing vaccine numbers
Over the last year, legacy media organizations such as The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post along with public health officials across the country have been sounding the alarm over decreasing rates of routine vaccination among U.S. children.
But even at its lowest point — the 2020-2021 school year — the kindergarten vaccination rate only dipped to 94% from 95%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Experts cited in these articles blame the drop on pandemic disruptions to U.S. healthcare, “vaccine hesitancy” about the COVID-19 vaccine bleeding over into other vaccines and the availability of non-medical vaccine exemptions.
EdSource reported that vaccination rates in California, which had been climbing since the state eliminated the personal belief exemption in 2015, plunged after schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of children in California were unable to start the school year in 2022 because they were behind on their vaccinations, it reported.
But EdSource also reported that the kindergarten vaccination rate was 92.8% in 2020 — down from 95% in 2018 — but went back up to 94% in 2021.
Between the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which gave vaccine makers immunity for any injuries caused by vaccines, the 1994 Vaccines for Children Program that provides no-cost vaccines to low-income children and the school mandates, Big Pharma has achieved nearly full saturation of the pediatric market, Kanthak said.
But that’s not the case for the adult market, where vaccine uptake is much lower without mandates. “Eliminating school exemptions for children is a major step in making exemptions unavailable for adults,” Kanthak said.
Because the child market was already saturated, “they [pharma] couldn’t use low rates as an excuse” to argue legislators should eliminate access to exemptions, he said.
That has resulted in the misrepresentation of vaccine rates, where it is made to seem as if high numbers of children are missing required vaccines, raising the specter of disease outbreaks, said Kanthak, which is apparent in the audit and EdSource’s reporting on it and most media headlines about vaccines.
“So you get policy influenced by headline,” he said.