Immunization rates for the measles in Connecticut are some of the highest in the country, but the number of people requesting exemptions for their children have gone up, and in an effort to give parents the information they need to keep their children healthy, the state has plans to make information on immunization rates at schools available to the public.
The state’s immunization rate for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination of kindergarteners is 96.5 percent, according to Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell.
However, Coleman-Mitchell acknowledges that the number of exemptions to getting the vaccine has gone up. In a letter sent to superintendents across the state on Tuesday, Coleman-Mitchell announced that the state will begin making information on immunization rates at the school-level public.
The state says it’s been collecting this data from school districts for decades, but has only made county and state rates public. By the end of this week, you’ll be able to look up your child’s school to see the percentage of students who are unvaccinated. This information is especially important for parents with children who suffer from immune disorders that prevent them from being vaccinated.
“I feel like people are entitled to the confidentiality but I also feel like people should also know the amount of kids that aren’t vaccinated. I think it helps parents make a better choice,” said Alison LeClair, the parent of a 2- and 4-year-old in Southington.
“I think it’s a great idea. One to be knowledgeable of what is in our school and if your children are at risk then that should be public knowledge,” added Jill Petruzzi, a Southington parent whose two children attend parochial school.
The database will include information from all public and private schools with over 30 students. Information will not be limited to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, but will include all childhood vaccines required to enter school.
“It’s become increasingly clear that there is a demand for this information, public health departments all around us have made this information available to their residents so parents can make informed decisions about schools in their communities,” explained State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Carter.
Carter said the state has been trying since 2014 to make this data public, after a measles outbreak in California. In fact, the department tried to move legislation through the state to make it a requirement. The bill failed in 2017. Now, Coleman-Mitchell is using her power to make school immunization rates public and says she has the support of Connecticut’s education commissioner.
“The Department of Public Health’s goal in releasing school-level information is to increase public awareness of immunization rates in local communities, which may lead to increased engagement and focus on increasing immunization rates to reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable disease,” Coleman-Mitchell said in the letter.
Southington’s Derynoski Elementary School had a scare last year when an adult who worked in the building contracted measles. It was an eye-opening experience for school leaders.
Superintendent Timothy Connellan said any child or adult who hadn’t been vaccinated was ordered to stay out of school for three weeks. While the district has a 98 percent vaccination rate, the real issue was the faculty, many of whom had no way of proving they had been vaccinated as children. Dozens of teachers and staff stayed home until the incubation period was over.
“Honestly, we were on the verge of having to close the school,” said Connellan.
Districtwide there are 130 students who are exempt from being vaccinated either for religious or medical reasons. However, he said there’s no way of knowing how many faculty aren’t vaccinated.
“I’m convinced that we do need to have some state-level action,” he said. “I personally think that the adults who work with children in our public schools should be required to show documentation,” he said.
Connellan said their health director is lobbying lawmakers to make that change and hopes it sparks a conversation in other school districts.
“Measles is just not something that we have had to talk about,” said Connellan pointed out.
The disease was considered eradicated in the year 2000, but has made a comeback. Officials point to vaccination exemptions and unfounded fears over autism as the cause.
While the health department hopes the information will encourage more vaccinations, parents we spoke to think it will add fuel to debate.
“There will be people that I’m pretty sure will be upset,” said Petruzzi.
“Yes, we need to protect our children from any current outbreaks but I feel like parents are also really considering what they’re putting into their kids bodies right now,” added LeClair.
Connellan hopes making that information public will inject a new level awareness into the debate over vaccinations.
“If there’s a medical reason certainly you understand that. I understand there’s a religious exemption and who are we to argue that point? I just want to be in a situation where our students are as safe as they can possibly be,” he said.