BRISTOL - The Connecticut Department of Public Health reports that while the immunization rate for the state’s kindergarten students remains high it has declined slightly in the past year.
The rate for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) immunization dropped from 96.5% in 2017-18 to 95.9% in 2018-19, according to data reported to DPH as of Aug. 13. That means a decrease of 0.6%.
In addition, the DPH is reporting that the overall number of religious exemptions to vaccination increased by 25% between the two school years - from 2.0% to 2.5%.
This represents the largest single year increase in religious exemptions for vaccination since the DPH started tracking the statewide data a decade ago.
This also continues a trend of steadily declining MMR vaccination rates among Connecticut kindergarteners since 2015-16.
Gov. Ned Lamont last week overruled DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell’s announcement that she would not release 2018-19 school vaccination rates.
Last May, DPH released the school data for 2017-18.
Max Reiss, the governor’s spokesman, said Lamont “finds this information important” and believes “the public has the right to know,” including state legislators, who’ve discussed possibly ending a religious exemption from vaccines.
Reiss’s comments came a day after Coleman-Mitchell said she only planned to release the most recent county-by-county immunization data and not school-by-school vaccination rates, noting there have been no new measles cases in Connecticut since April.
Reiss said county-by-county data will be released in October and school-by-school numbers sometime afterward, once they have been verified for accuracy.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat from Hartford who has voiced concern about the growing number of vaccine exemptions sought on religious grounds, said it’s important for lawmakers to have the school-by-school data to identify pockets of unvaccinated students.
Ritter said county-by-county or statewide data gives people the “false impression” there are no issues with vaccinations. While Connecticut has high statewide vaccination rates, school-by-school information released earlier this year showed more than 100 schools with rates that fell below recommended federal guidelines.
A Bristol couple is suing DPH to stop the agency from publicly releasing additional immunization rate information at private and public schools, arguing their unvaccinated son suffered “mental and emotional distress” after the data released in May showed 18.5% of students at his private school in Meriden claimed the religious exemption.
“As our children go back to school this week, it is important to have on the parental checklist that all vaccinations are up-to-date,” Coleman-Mitchell said in a statement on the DPH website. “Connecticut overall is meeting the guideline recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that at least 95% of kindergarteners receive the MMR vaccine required for school attendance.”
“It does raise concern, however, that this number declined in the 2018-2019 school year while religious exemptions for vaccine-preventable diseases overall have increased. If parents have any questions about vaccinating their children, they should discuss them with their child’s primary care physician. We want to make sure every school in Connecticut has a high enough percentage of immunized children to prevent a vaccine-preventable disease such as measles from spreading in a school environment,” she continued.
For more information on DPH’s full statement on vaccinations, visit portal.ct.gov/DPH/Press-Room/Press-Releases--2019/As-School-Resumes-Across-CT-DPH-Reminds-Parents-to-Ensure-That-Child-Vaccinations-Are-up-to-date.
Material from The Associated Press was included in this article.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.