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The Sticky Facts About Google's Unvaccinated Kids

Google claims data on low vaccination rates at its day care facilities are simply not up to date. But that doesn't explain a year-after-year pattern at odds with the rest of its region.

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Yesterday, Wired published a scathing indictment of Silicon Valley: namely, that affluent tech moms and dads may be among those choosing not to vaccinate their kids.

Looking at 12 Bay Area tech companies and their associated day cares, Wired found that half of them had vaccination rates that were below average. Google's two day care centers were some of the worst.

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At one of the Google day cares, just under half of kids were up-to-date on their shots for this year.

At the other, only 77% were.

Google blamed their low immunization rates on old data.

Google spokespeople claim that the unvaccinated kids at their two day care facilities were simply not up-to-date with their shots at the time these records were due to the California Department of Public Health in October. If data could be submitted now, they say — which it can't be, since it's only collected once a year — it would show a lot more well-vaccinated Google children.

The issue hinges on the fact that day cares can do what's called "conditional admissions" on kids who are behind on getting their shots. The day care can admit the kids on the condition that they'll presumably go get their shots even after the reporting is due. Google claims that their low numbers mostly reflect a lot of these kids slipping through the cracks — and that they have since gotten their shots taken care of.

But, importantly, this pattern has occurred at Google's day cares year after year.

This year, last year, and every year back to 2010, Google's immunization rates have been dismal.

While a Google spokesperson pointed to their high vaccination rates from last year — 98% and 81% — as evidence for why this year's numbers could be an anomaly, those figures are misleading: They're only for measles. The total rates last year were 61% and 55%.

In 2012-13, when only one day care facility existed, the vaccination rates were at 56%. During the 2011-2012 school year, they were at 77%. Surprisingly, in 2010, the first year for which this data was available, vaccination rates were at a sound 94%.

It also does not explain why Google's facilities are so out of line with other area schools.

"I think it's very telling that specific schools would have this pattern of conditional immunizations year after year after year," Catherine Flores-Martin, director of the California Immunization Coalition, told BuzzFeed News.

This is especially true if you look at other schools in the area, which are all required to submit their immunization reports at the same time in October.

The pattern at Google's day care facilities stands in stark contrast to schools in neighboring East Palo Alto. Predominantly black and Latino, with nearly 20% of the population living under the poverty line, East Palo Alto's six day care facilities have an average vaccination rate of 98%. At the city's three federally funded Head Start schools, which specifically serve low-income families, 99.3% of kids are totally up-to-date with their shots.

Across Santa Clara county, where Google HQ is stationed, the vaccination rate average is 88%.

The difference highlights what many are pointing out is a growing disparity between who exactly is opting out of vaccines and who isn't.

"What we're looking at now then is whether [conditional enrollment] is another loophole in a way," Flores-Martin said. "Some schools are right on it. Others, it seems, are letting it go."

A Google spokesperson has contacted BuzzFeed News saying that they have collected up-to-date immunization records from all children enrolled. While the California Department of Public Health listed one of their daycares as having a 49% overall immunization rate, the updated immunization records show 85% total vaccine coverage, with an updated MMR vaccination rate of 93%. The second daycare, listed in public health records as having a 77% overall vaccination rate, now has 92% of overall immunizations covered, with an MMR immunization rate of 95%.

The spokesperson attributed the lower numbers to the daycare programs failing to follow up one by one to get updated records from all parents. "We now have more reflective information. We will continue to follow-up with our parents to get the needed records," the Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Azeen Ghorayshi is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Her PGP Fingerprint is 9739 9DAE 607E A66A 3683 AC20 E34B D2A0 8899 74C4

Contact Azeen Ghorayshi at azeen.ghorayshi@buzzfeed.com.

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