Connecticut Releases School Vaccination Rates, But The Data Is Disputed | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut Releases School Vaccination Rates, But The Data Is Disputed

May 3, 2019

The state Department of Public Health has made public the number of unvaccinated children attending every school in the state. But some of the numbers have already been disputed as inaccurate. 

Data on unvaccinated children has been available on the DPH website, but only on the county and state level.

But as several states grapple with a measles outbreak, DPH commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell told school superintendents that drilling down to the school level could not only help her organization identify areas with unusually large numbers of unvaccinated children and provide information on vaccines to those communities, but also help parents who have children with compromised immune systems better select schools with higher immunization rates.

That phenomenon of protection through high rates of vaccination is called herd immunity. Dr. Matt Cartter is the state epidemiologist. "If you vaccinate enough people in a community or population, it give protection to the entire population," he said. "In a school setting, that means 95 percent or more of the student population should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity."

More than 100 schools in the state fall below that 95 percent vaccination rate.

According to the data, private schools, especially religiously-based private schools tended to have higher percentages of unvaccinated children compared to public schools.

The data also showed a disparity in immunization rates between Connecticut's largest cities and surrounding towns. Public schools in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury all reported very small percentages of unvaccinated children, well within the hive immunity threshold. Most of the spikes in unvaccinated children occurred in Connecticut's smaller municipalities.

According to the table released by DPH, in 2017, 41.6% of students at Redding elementary school were unvaccinated, most them on a religious exemption.

But Tom McMorran, Superintendent of the Easton-Redding-Region 9 School District which oversees Redding Elementary, says the numbers are flat out wrong.

“I just spoke with the nurse at Redding Elementary School, the correct number of students who have not been vaccinated is 22 out of a total school population of 469, so that calculates to 4.7 percent," he told Connecticut Public Radio. "It's clearly a mistake.”

McMorran says that number aligns with the other public schools in the district, and believes it was a "data-entry error".

DPH spokesman Av Harris doesn't dispute Redding's numbers, telling Connecticut Public Radio "Our numbers are based on what the schools report to us."

Governor Ned Lamont issued a statement on the release, saying “this data is startling and needs to be addressed. This cannot become a public health crisis as we have seen in other states. Making sure all of our young students in Connecticut are safe is the number one priority.”

Some legislators have floated the idea this session of tightening or removing the religious exemption which allows parents to send their children to public schools without adhering to the state's vaccine schedule.

According to DPH data, Housatonic Valley Waldorf School in Newtown, Giant Steps School in Fairfield, Crossway Christian School, and Prospect Elementary School had the highest number of unvaccinated students in the state.

This story will be updated.