Child vaccination rate low in some areas of the Roaring Fork Valley
Immunization rates for measles, mumps, polio and other highly contagious diseases show that some local schools are at a much higher risk of an outbreak than others.
Garfield County’s westernmost school districts, Garfield 16 and Garfield Re-2, had higher complete immunization rates. Garfield 16 had vaccination rates of 95 percent, and Re-2 had a 96 percent immunization rate for each vaccine except for chickenpox.
Schools in the geographical region of the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, however, had a lower average immunization rate of 93 percent for measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), polio and diphtheria, according to self-reported data collected by the state and provided by Garfield County Public Health.
The private Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, the Re-1 district’s Crystal River Elementary School, the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, and the Glenwood Springs Montessori preschool have the highest risk of outbreak due to either low immunization rates or a high number of personal exemptions, according to data collected by the state from individual schools.
Waldorf School has the highest exemption rate in Garfield County, with 62 percent of kindergarten student parents claiming personal exemptions to MMR and polio vaccines. In the older grades, 47 percent of Waldorf students claimed personal exemptions to MMR, and 43 percent have exemptions from polio vaccine.
“As a school, our position is to inform and implement our related policies and allow families to choose in freedom their own course of action,” Larry Smith, business administrator for Waldorf, said in an email.
The majority of those exemptions are personal, not religious, according to the state’s data.
“Personally, I believe that achieving a goal of higher immunization rates is not the job of a school, but one for the health care system and community health organizations,” Smith said.
Parents should be informed before or around the time of childbirth, he said, not when the children reach school.
state law, with exceptions
Diseases such as measles, which is known to spread rapidly, require roughly a 95 percent vaccination rate for each vaccine to help protect the health of students, staff and others in the community, according to the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition.
Per Colorado law and Board of Health Rule, all licensed schools and child care centers are required to report their immunization and exemption rate information annually to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to be made publicly available online.
Garfield Re-2 policy states that “no student may attend or continue to attend any school in the district without meeting the legal requirements of immunization against disease unless the student has a valid exemption for health, religious, personal or other reason as provided by law.”
Theresa Hamilton, Garfield Re-2 director of communications, said the staff does an exceptional job of ensuring that families are up-to-date and informed on their child’s immunization schedule.
“[The district] is very good at helping support parents at being in compliance of state statute,” she added.
While the Re-2 school district showed a low risk of outbreak for all of the state required vaccines, Roaring Fork’s risk was considered to be moderate for many of the diseases.
“It’s our stance that it’s better to be immunized than not immunized,” Roaring Fork District Superintendent Rob Stein said.
Stein said that, in the past year, the district has improved outreach to parents, telling them to gather the appropriate forms proving immunization or exemptions before students start school.
“We’ve probably improved compliance with just the paperwork part. Once someone tells us they’re opting out, though, that’s where our efforts stop,” Stein said.
Depending on the vaccine, the number of Roaring Fork School District students fully immunized ranged from 91 percent to 93 percent for the area, according to health officials.
Despite being similarly sized in terms of student population, the data shows that 206 students in the Roaring Fork School District are exempt from one or more school-required vaccines, while the Garfield School District Re-2 has 108 students exempt.
Compliance a statewide issue
Colorado has the lowest kindergarten vaccination rate in the country at 88.7 percent. The state is one of 17 states that allow personal (as opposed to medical or religious) exemptions to immunization.
To confront that, Colorado state Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat, proposed a House Bill 1312 to tighten the process for getting personal exemptions and improve data collection.
The current version of the bill does not remove the exemption for any personal reason, but “formalizes the process in which you obtain these exemptions,” Mullica said Monday during a hearing Monday before the House Committee on Health and Insurance.
Currently, a parent could write an exemption on any piece of paper and it would be valid, Mullica said. Under the new bill, parents would need a certificate of exemption to enroll their children in school.
“We are well below the vaccination rates we need to be at for the vaccines to work, and according to medical experts we are at risk of outbreaks we have seen in other states,” Mullica said.
The committee advanced the bill along a party-line vote Monday.
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