Boy getting an injection.Arizona law requires kids to get certain vaccines in order to attend school unless a doctor signs a medical exemption form or a parent signs a religious or personal belief exemption form.  There’s been an increasing number of parents who are signing personal belief exemption forms- putting herd immunity at risk.

Every year we examine our exemption rates…which gives us information about how we’re doing and where we need to focus our efforts.  This year’s analysis found that exemption rates increased again.  Childcare exemption rates went from 3.8% to 4.1% over the last 2 school years.  Kindergarten exemption rates went from 3.9% to 4.7%.  For some perspective-in 2004 only 1.6% of school kids in Arizona were vaccine exempt.

This year’s report shows a noticeable difference in exemption rates between school types.  Public, charter, and private schools all reported higher exemption rates than last year…but exemptions are much higher in charter & private schools than in public schools.  More than 9% of charter school kindergartners were exempted by their parents.  Likewise, 7.5% of private school kindergartners were exempted by their parents (compared to 3.6% of public school kindergartners).

Over the last 18 months we’ve been working with partners using data collected by the U of A to stem the tide.  Last year’s initiatives included implementation of our Action Plan to Address Vaccine Exemptions which included updating the vaccine exemption form (which reinforces to parents know how important it is to vaccinate their kids and the consequences if they don’t).  The form also makes it clear that if there’s an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease in a school and their child isn’t vaccinated, he or she may not be allowed to attend school for up to 3 weeks or until the risk period ends.

We’ve also been working with partners to increase information about what vaccines are needed and how the public can find the needed vaccines easily.  We also created a reference and resource document to help schools and childcare facilities better understand the requirements.  We’ll be analyzing this year’s report to identify additional evidence-based strategies to combat this troubling trend toward lower vaccination rates in our schools.

With school about to start, it’s a great time to make an appointment and talk to your healthcare provider to see if your child needs any vaccinations and pick up a copy of those records for the school.