Fewer Connecticut kindergarteners are getting vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, and more students are getting religious exemptions for mandatory vaccines, new data shows.
The state Department of Public Health released a summary report Thursday on childhood vaccination rates and encouraged parents to make sure their children’s immunizations are up to date as they return to school.
While overall vaccination rates remain high across Connecticut, the MMR vaccination rate for kindergarteners dropped slightly to 95.9 percent between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years.
Also in that time frame, the number of religious exemptions from vaccination jumped 25 percent — the largest single-year increase in a decade, according to the report.
While the overall MMR vaccination rate exceeds guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said in a statement that “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.”
The new data comes out after DPH and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office made conflicting decisions about future releases of school-by-school vaccination data.
Back in May, DPH for the first time made public the vaccination rates, as well as the medical or religious exemption rates, for nearly every school in the state. The information was put out in response to nationwide outbreaks of measles and to better identify weak spots in the state’s immunization coverage.
Legislators expected a second report this summer of school-by-school vaccination data, but Coleman-Mitchell told the Connecticut Mirror earlier this week that DPH no longer had plans to do that, citing few measles cases in Connecticut this year as well as a high statewide vaccination rate.
Shortly after, Gov. Ned Lamont overruled his own public health commissioner by announcing that more school-by-school vaccination data would be made public soon after it is verified for accuracy.
“I think parents have a right to know, and I think it's about transparency, and I think I am doing everything I can to give parents confidence that we are looking out for the public safety and the public health of the greater community,” Lamont said Thursday at a bill signing event. “This is one more way of making that fact.”
Lamont agreed with Coleman-Mitchell in that there is a minimal chance of widespread outbreak of measles in Connecticut. But he said he’s concerned about the outliers.
“In almost every single case, our vaccination rates are such that they should feel very confident in terms of public health,” he said. “There are some communities that were a yellow flag, so we want to alert people to what we've got to do every day to keep public safety.”
In a reversal to her earlier position this week, Coleman-Mitchell said, “the decline in vaccination rates and the increase in the number of religious exemptions validates the need to release immunization rates by county and by school for the 2018-2019 school year by October 21, 2019.”
Meanwhile, a Bristol couple is suing the DPH to block any more school vaccination data. The couple have a 7-year-old son with autism who attends a school with a high exemption rate. Their child has a religious exemption for mandatory vaccines.
In court documents, the couple said since the release of the first school vaccination report in May, “hateful and vitriolic statements regarding non-vaccinated students and parents began appearing on the internet,” leading to what they called mental and emotional distress for families who do not vaccinate.
The Bristol couple argued that while the school-by-school vaccination report does not identify individual unvaccinated children, it still amounts to a breach of privacy.
Brian and Krista Festa filed a court motion Wednesday through their attorney, state Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, R-Bristol, to put an immediate, temporary stop to a second school-by-school report.
A court judge has not yet made a decision on that motion, and the case is pending.