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108 CT schools have vaccination rates below standard

May 3, 2019 GMT

HARTFORD — Connecticut schools have one of the highest immunization rates in the country, but according to information released by the Department of Public Health there are 108 schools with immunization rates for the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine that are below 95 percent.

Outbreaks, like the ones happening in New York and California, are less likely to occur at schools a large number of students are immunized and herd immunity is achieved when the vaccination rate in school is high enough to protect unvaccinated children — the Centers for Disease Control says that number is 95-percent.

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Dr. Jody L. Terranova, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, said the minimum you need for herd immunity is 95 percent. And while Connecticut overall has a high immunization rate, the data released by the state shows some schools fall below that.

She said the data will help the Connecticut Academy of Pediatrics reach out to schools with low numbers and see what education they can provide to increase the numbers and protect students who cannot be vaccinated. She added that the data may be eye opening for parents with children who have compromised immune systems because if their school falls below 95 percent then there is no herd immunity.

The lowest number of kindergarteners immunized with the MMR vaccine were at schools in Stamford, Bridgeport, Hartford, and East Hartford. At least six schools had kindergarteners with immunization rates that were lower than 80 percent.

There are at least 36 schools where the immunization rate with the MMR vaccine for kindergarteners was lower than 90 percent. Those schools are in Groton, Norwich, New Haven, Bloomfield, Hartford, Bridgeport, South Windsor, New Canaan, Waterbury, Redding, Mansfield, Milford, Westport, Canterbury, Stafford, and Stamford.

In seventh grade there were five schools with immunization rates for measles that was lower than 90 percent. The schools were in Norwich, Newtown, New Haven, Hartford, and Killingly.

Schools with immunization rates between 90 and 92 percent were in Greenwich, Guilford, Stamford, and Bridgeport.

The number of schools with MMR rates under 95 percent increases to 116 when seventh grade is taken into account.

The information released included the percentage of children in kindergarten and 7th grade who are vaccinated against measles and other diseases as recommended. It also includes the percentage of children in any grade who have an immunization exemption, which is based on what the schools report to the state. Some of that exemption data seems to be missing for schools that show low immunization rates.

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Democratic legislative leadership in the House and the Senate said the data proves what they feared.

“The immunization level is dangerously low in a significant number of schools and communities putting the public’s health at risk. This is a matter of grave public health concern,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, who has not been shy about his desire to get rid of the religious exemption for vaccines, said the numbers were “shocking.”

This information is giving those like Looney who want to get rid of the religious exemption for vaccines, the ammunition he needs to ignore the vocal group of parents who have been lobbying hard to keep the religious exemption.

“Public health is always top priority, and when there are signs it is being compromised, it can’t be ignored,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said.

This is the first time the department has released the information about the immunization rates for various vaccines at each school. Schools with low immunization rates, also have higher rates of religious and medical exemptions. The data provided by the department does not include schools with fewer than 60 students and it does not include childcare centers and preschools.

Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell, who recently moved back to Connecticut from Washington state which was in the midst of a measles outbreak, sent a letter to school superintendents earlier this week to let them know she was releasing the information.

“While Connecticut’s immunization rate for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination of kindergarteners remained high last year at 96.5 percent the number of fully immunized students, upon Kindergarten and 7th Grade entry, is trending lower,” Coleman-Mitchell wrote. “A disease outbreak is less likely to occur at schools where high numbers of students are immunized.”

Coleman-Mitchell said Friday that the “goal in releasing immunization data for each school is to increase public awareness of vaccination rates in local communities. Hopefully, this will lead to more engagement and focus on increasing immunization rates to reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.”