The state is expected to release new school-by-school vaccination and exemption data Monday after a Hartford Superior Court judge denied a Bristol couple’s attempt to temporarily block the release.
Attorney Cara Pavalock-D’Amato argued in court on behalf of her clients Brian and Kristen Festa that the release of a second report detailing percentages of religious and medical vaccine exemptions at each Connecticut school would continue to cause “irreparable harm” to the Festas, who have a son with a religious exemption.
The Festas brought a lawsuit against the state Department of Public Health earlier this year after the release of school-level vaccination data in May, but Judge Susan Cobb dismissed the case last month. The couple has since filed an appeal.
“We were asking them to withhold the information until we could get a decision from the appellate court,” Pavalock-D’Amato said, “because once you publish that information, people can download it. You can’t take it back.”
Cobb denied the request to temporarily halt the data release based on her dismissal ruling in the original case. Attorney Henry Salton, of the state Office of the Attorney General, said parents, especially those of medically compromised children who are more at risk of illness, deserve to have access to the data.
“The public interest is significant in this matter,” he said in court Monday.
DPH officials said they released the first batch of school-level vaccination and exemption data for the 2017/2018 year in May in reaction to pockets of measles outbreaks across the country.
Although the state’s overall child vaccination rate remains high, DPH officials said the data helped identify more than 100 schools where vaccination rates fell below federal recommendations. Public health officials said these school-aged children were more susceptible to disease outbreaks.
But in court documents, the Festas stated that the data release violated medical privacy rights and posed a threat to families like theirs who do not vaccinate. Cobb dismissed the case last month, saying the Festas failed to solve the problem directly with DPH through correct administrative remedies before bringing it to court.
DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell along with Gov. Ned Lamont said last month they would support efforts to eliminate the state’s religious exemption to mandatory school vaccinations in the next legislative session.
Coleman-Mitchell cited rising rates of religious exemptions and said the state needs to maintain high vaccination rates in order to prevent disease outbreaks. With the governor, she recommended that the religious exemption be eliminated by Oct. 1, 2021.
Vaccination data for the 2018/2019 school year are expected to be released Monday. DPH officials said the number of religious exemptions jumped 25 percent from the previous school year, marking the largest single-year increase in a decade.