New vaccination exemption data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows Idaho led the nation for school immunization exemption rates during the 2014-2015 school year. The recently published data show 6.5% of Idaho kindergarten students had an exemption on file for at least one vaccine when they registered for school.
Idaho allows immunization exemptions for religious, medical, or philosophical reasons. Of the 6.5% of Idaho’s kindergarteners with an exemption on file, 5.6% were for philosophical reasons, while 0.3% were medical and 0.6% were religious exemptions.
The high exemption rate is concerning for public health and school officials, along with parents of children attending schools. “Having a high percentage of students who are not fully protected from preventable diseases is concerning, especially for other children who cannot receive vaccine protection because of medical conditions,” says Dr. Christine Hahn M.D., Idaho Public Health Medical Director. “Many parents sign an exemption for convenience; it may be the path of least resistance when registering a child for school who is behind on their vaccine schedule. However, that path can lead to serious illness to their children or classmates. We believe Idaho can do better.”
Almost all children with exemptions have received vaccines, but are not current with the school recommendations. The kindergarten vaccination rate for each recommended vaccine series is almost 90%, which are some of the highest rates Idaho has seen during the last four years. The individual vaccine series with the highest exemption rate is the two shot series for Varicella, or chicken pox, which 88.1% of Idaho kindergarten students are protected from. Although it appears most parents strongly believe in vaccine protection, they may declare an exemption during school registration when they discover their child needs one or more vaccines, but do not want to delay registration.
The occurrence of many childhood vaccine-preventable diseases has been greatly reduced over the years in the United States; however, many of these diseases are still common in other parts of the world and are easily spread through travel. In 2000, the highly contagious disease measles was eliminated from the U.S., however, every year cases are reported and attributed to travelers. In December 2014, a large, multi-state measles outbreak occurred, believed to be caused by an overseas traveler visiting a California amusement park. That outbreak included cases in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska and California.
If a measles outbreak were to occur in an Idaho school, an unimmunized child would be told to stay home until the spread of disease was no longer a threat. In the case of measles, that would be a minimum of 21 days.
The Idaho Immunization Program continues to work with healthcare providers, Idaho public health districts and schools to increase vaccination rates to protect children.