School Vaccination Rates Drop Again this School Year

At the core – vaccines are really about community protection.  Our public health system depends on a solid network of providers that are available to vaccinate kids for all the nasty infectious diseases that have plagued humanity for millenia.  Vaccinating yourself and your kids is more about community protection than personal protection. It’s a social contract that we have with each other to keep all of us healthy.

We need just about everybody to participate in our shared social contract to vaccinate in order to get the herd immunity.  When communities have herd immunity, those who can’t be vaccinated and folks with weakened immune systems will still be protected because the viruses can’t circulate.  Measles needs a 95% community vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity.

As a means to maintaining herd immunity, Arizona law (ARS-872 & ARS-873) requires that all children attending school or child care have certain vaccines unless they’re exempted by a doctor for medical reasons or by a parent for personal reasons.  

Each year, schools (6th grade, kindergarten, and child care/preschool) are supposed to turn in data about the vaccine exemptions in their school to the ADHS.  

There’s bad news again in this year’s report- continuing a multi-year trend toward higher exemption rates (worse vaccination rates). For the current school year:

  • 6th grade exemption rates went from 5.4% last year to 6.1% this year

  • Kindergarten exemption rates went from 5.4% to 5.9% 

  • Child care exemption rates increased from 4.3% percent to 4.5%

This year’s results can be found on the ADHS’ Immunization Coverage Level page.  You can check out individual school exemption rates on the Arizona School Vaccine Exemption Spreadsheet.

There are some pretty discouraging results in this year’s results. For example, only 27% of Yavapai County schools (12/44) have herd immunity among 6th graders. Coconino County is only at 33% on the same measure (6/18). As in previous years, charter schools tend to have higher exemption rates than public schools. Lots of data to dive into in the spreadsheet. 

Arizona School Vaccine Exemption Spreadsheet

Sadly, several bills that would have improved rates weren’t even heard in committee this year like HB 2162 which would have removed the personal exemption and HB 2352 which would have required schools to post on their school’s immunization rates.

However, several bills were heard that would have eroded immunization rates even further including SB 1115, HB 2471, HB  2472, SB 1116, and HB 2470.  Fortunately those bills appear to be dead for this year- but may very well return.