Data show more immunization rates dropped below guidelines
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — New data released Monday by Connecticut health officials shows immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella among kindergarten students has continued to decline in more schools, a development that’s being linked to more families seeking religious exemptions from required vaccinations.
During the 2018-19 school year, the vaccination rate fell below the federally mandated guideline of 95% in 134 schools with more than 30 kindergarten students, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Public Health. That’s compared to 102 such schools during the 2017-2018 school year. The statewide rate still meets the 95% guideline.
“While it is good that statewide in Connecticut we are still meeting the federally recommended MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination rate of 95% for kindergarteners, I am very concerned that the number of schools falling short of this important immunization level continues to rise,” Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said in a written statement. She said there has been a “sharp rise” in the number of religious exemptions being sought, which she said “unnecessarily puts our children at risk for contracting measles and other vaccine preventable diseases.”
This latest information was posted on the Department of Public Health’s website , despite a legal challenge from parents who argued the data is flawed and should not be released. An emergency request to block the release was denied Monday morning. The plaintiffs, Brian and Kristen Festa, of Bristol, have argued that releasing the information would harm the privacy of students with vaccine exemptions like their son, who attend small schools and could be harassed or stigmatized. The data includes school-by-school vaccination information but no names of students with religious or medical exemptions.
Brian Festa said he had hoped to further appeal his lawsuit to the state Supreme Court and was disappointed the Department of Public Health decided to release the data.
“The genie is already out of the bottle,” he said, adding that his planned legal appeals are now moot.
Coleman-Mitchell has recommended Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers repeal non-medical exemptions to vaccinations. DPH data show 1,469 of the 81,655 students entering kindergarten during the 2018-19 school year were exempted from vaccination requirements for religious reasons. That’s compared to 1,255 of 83,508 students in 2017-18; 1,100 out of 82,339 in 2016-17; 1,088 out of 84,793 in 2015-2016; and 944 out of 82,471 in 2014-15.
The current school year’s immunization rate data will be released next fall.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Lamont said these latest numbers show how “it’s even more pressing that we work with the General Assembly to repeal the non-medical exemptions in the interest of public health.” But Festa contends the numbers don’t indicate there’s a public health threat, noting that former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 1998 publicly touted Connecticut’s 91% immunization rate as the highest in the U.S.
“There was no public health crisis. There were no calls back then for releasing data or repealing the religious exemption or anything like that,” he said.
The next regular legislative session begins in February.