Whether it’s measles or pertussis, the local children statistically at the greatest risk for infection aren’t, as one might imagine, the least privileged — far from it. An examination by The Hollywood Reporter of immunization records submitted to the state by educational facilities suggests that wealthy Westside kids — particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens — are far more likely to get sick (and potentially infect their siblings and playmates) than other kids in L.A. The reason is at once painfully simple and utterly complex: More parents in this demographic are choosing not to vaccinate their children as medical experts advise. They express their noncompliance by submitting a form known as a personal belief exemption (PBE) instead of paperwork documenting a completed shot schedule.
The number of PBEs being filed is scary. The region stretching from Malibu south to Marina del Rey and inland as far as La Cienega Boulevard (and including Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills) averaged a 9.1 percent PBE level among preschoolers for the 2013-14 school year — a 26 percent jump from two years earlier. By comparison, L.A. County at large measured 2.2 percent in that period. Many preschools in this area spiked far higher, including Kabbalah Children’s Academy in Beverly Hills (57 percent) and the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica (68 percent). According to World Health Organization data, such numbers are in line with immunization rates in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan. These two schools aren’t outliers; dozens more — including Seven Arrows, Turning Point and Calvary Christian — report PBE levels that are five times the county average. And THR has found that administrators at many of these facilities are hardly alarmed.
According to more than a dozen area pediatricians and infectious disease specialists THR spoke to, most vaccine-wary parents have abandoned autism concerns for a diffuse constellation of unproven anxieties, from allergies and asthma to eczema and seizures. “If I talk to most of my patients, who are very savvy by the way, they will say they know someone directly or indirectly who felt that their child has not been the same since the vaccine,” says Dr. Lauren Feder, whose pediatrics practice, popular with those leery of immunizations, is based just south of L.A.’s Miracle Mile.