The return of the measles wasn’t an abstract phenomenon in Santa Monica.
In late January, a Santa Monica High School coach was diagnosed with the highly contagious infection. Less than two weeks later, more than a dozen infants at the school’s child care center were ordered quarantined after a baby who attends the center was found with the virus.
The widely publicized outbreak, which officials traced to the Disneyland amusement parks, sparked a frenzied push by public health agencies, educational institutions and other organizations to promote vaccinations across the state.
It made for an extremely busy spell for the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s advisory committee on health and safety, which supported the district’s efforts to educate parents and increase vaccination rates in local schools.
That work was highlighted by committee chair and area physician Sion Roy as the district Board of Education heard brief updates from several SMMUSD advisory committees during its June 24 meeting.
Lengthier discussions between board members and committee representatives are expected to be held in the coming months, and the school board aims to approve the various panels’ goals for 2015-16 by October.
Following the measles cases at Samohi, Roy said, “We had extensive discussions and were able to support the board members and the community … in increasing vaccination rates in the district.”
Based on information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Roy’s committee created an informational handout on measles, mumps and rubella.
Roy also noted his committee’s vocal support of state Senate Bill 277, which prevents parents from citing personal beliefs to decline vaccines for their school-age children. The bill, which allows parents to decline vaccines for their children for medical reasons, was signed into law June 30 by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Some five months earlier, when a Samohi freshman baseball coach was diagnosed with measles, district officials determined that all players and students who may have had contact with the coach had received the necessary vaccines. Unvaccinated students could have been required to stay out of school for 21 days, Supt. Sandra Lyon said at the time.
But when the outbreak hit Samohi’s child care facility, 14 infants were ordered quarantined and one of the center’s rooms was closed indefinitely. The infection can be particularly dangerous to infants, who typically don’t receive immunization until they’re a year old.
At the time, the district reported its vaccination opt-out rate to be 11.5 percent — down slightly from 14.8 percent a year earlier, but not low enough in the eyes of school administrators and public health agencies.
Those officials eagerly welcomed the legislation that was soon introduced in Sacramento, where state Sen. Ben Allen — a Samohi alumnus and former SMMUSD board member — co-authored a bill to repeal California’s personal-belief exemption.
“The high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community,” Allen said as the bill gained momentum. “We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy.”
But the story of the measles outbreak in Santa Monica — and its impact — doesn’t end there.
Even as Brown signed Allen’s hotly debated bill into law, opposition to the ban on personal-belief exemptions remained strong. Critics marched July 3 from Santa Monica Pier to City Hall in protest of the law.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how the local school district will handle students who are not inoculated by the fall.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.