Wilton Editorial: Forward on vaccinations
Earlier this year, measles outbreaks in New York and other states were in the news almost every day.
A disease that sometimes can be deadly was seemingly eradicated in 2000. But some families learned the hard way things aren’t always what they seem. For whatever reason, parents sought exemptions to state laws requiring immunization before children can attend school and measles resurfaced.
In Connecticut, the picture became clearer — and concerning — in May when the Department of Public Health commissioner released to the public a school-by-school look at immunization rates. Fortunately, Wilton’s public schools had high immunization rates.
The new commissioner, Renee D. Coleman Mitchell, was rightly praised for providing previously confidential information considering the national health scare over the measles outbreak. Undoubtedly, every parent seeing the report, immediately checked their child’s school.
While Wilton’s numbers were good, the report showed that 108 public and private schools were below the 95-percent immunization rate for measles, mumps and rubella recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The percentage is important. Above that amount is what health officials call a “herd” immunity, which protects the few who might not be vaccinated. Below that amount, however, the highly contagious diseases can take hold.
Before an effective vaccine for measles was developed in 1963, three to four million people would be infected with the disease each year.
During this year’s legislative session, there was a move to end religious exemptions for vaccinations, but it was eventually abandoned and no vote was ever taken. The move would not have forced immunizations for children, but kids not vaccinated on religious grounds would not have been allowed to enroll in public schools.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health released data in August that showed a 25-percent spike in religious exemption claims from the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-2019 school year. That raised the percentage of unvaccinated students in Connecticut from 2 to 2.5 percent.
At Miller-Driscoll, the religious exemption rate was 2.3 percent according to the May report. The number was higher at Middlebrook — 2.8 percent.
At Our Lady of Fatima the exemption rate was 5.3 percent and 4.2 percent at the Montessori School, but their enrollments are much smaller and a few exemptions could skew the numbers.
After all this, Coleman-Mitchell said late last month she would not be releasing new school-by-school data on immunization rates, citing only three measles cases in Connecticut this year. This despite the fact that in next-door New York there have been 654 cases confirmed in New York City and another 415 cases in the rest of the state so far this year.
Her decision to withhold this information was wrong, but now, in a letter to House and Senate leaders, she said her department will release immunization rates by school on Oct. 21 for the 2018-19 school year. Although the statewide immunization rate is 95 percent, individual schools can be much lower and parents have a right to know whether their children are vulnerable.
In addition, Coleman-Mitchell joined Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday in announcing their support to roll back religious exemptions for vaccinations.
In her letter, Coleman-Mitchell said “Connecticut has many under-immunized schools and the risk of a measles outbreak is real and increasing. Controlling a measles outbreak is difficult and quick success is not assured.” She recommended eliminating the religious exemption for vaccination beginning with the 2021-22 school year to give school districts and parents time to prepare.
For his part, Lamont said in a statement, “The more children who receive their vaccinations, the safer it is for everyone, especially those who may be at risk to catch serious diseases. I want to make it clear, parents will still have a choice regarding the medical decisions for their children, but if you make the choice not to protect your children against preventable diseases then alternate decisions must be made about where to educate your children.”