School-by-school immunization data released by the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) from the 2018-2019 school year, showed there were 134 schools where less than 95 percent of kindergartners received vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella, according to an article published in wnpr.org.
The number is an increase from the roughly 102 schools during the previous school year. State officials pointed to the rising number of religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination, according to the article.
“These increases in religious exemption rates have been going on for more than a decade, and it’s starting to finally really have a significant impact on our overall immunization rates,” Dr. Matthew Cartter, state epidemiologist told WNPR.
Public health officials focused on kindergarten-level vaccinations and exemptions. However, the data also included rates of religious and medical exemptions at the 7th-grade level, as well as overall rates for all grades. DPH also released data in May on the 2017-2018 school year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that at least 95 percent of students be vaccinated against infectious diseases in order to achieve “herd immunity,” or a protection level that significantly reduces the risk of disease outbreak in a community, according to the article.
Hispanics, Latinos, and Vaccinations
When it comes to Latinos, state figures for this group were not available. However, immigrants from Latin America tend to have higher rates of measles vaccinations among children 12-23 months. In Mexico, the measles vaccination rate is 99 percent — higher than the U.S. rate of 92 percent, according to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that Hispanic children aged 19 to 35 months had comparable rates of immunization for hepatitis, influenza, MMR and polio in 2015.
Data from 2016 showed that the percentage of Hispanic children ages 19-25 months who received the recommended vaccination of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) was 90.6 percent, compared to 91.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites.
What About Connecticut?
Last year, there were 40 Connecticut schools that had kindergarten MMR vaccination rates below 90 percent — and Cartter said that is concerning.
“We would consider those schools to be definitely under-immunized and at risk for having a measles outbreak if someone were to develop measles and travel to those schools,” Cartter told WNPR.
The data showed that the majority of children in Connecticut continue to get vaccinated for most infectious diseases, but last year, some schools had up to 41 percent of their total populations exempted from vaccines — mainly for religious reasons, according to the article.
Between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school year, the overall statewide numbers of religious vaccine exemptions went from 2 percent to 2.5 percent. State officials call it the largest single-year increase in a decade.
“This unnecessarily puts our children at risk for contracting measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said in a statement.
Coleman-Mitchell has recommended the state’s religious exemption be eliminated during the next legislative session in order to improve vaccination rates, according to the article. The decision is supported by Gov. Ned Lamont.