Arizona law requires that all children attending school or child care must obtain certain vaccines, unless they are exempted by a doctor for medical purposes, or by a parent for personal reasons. Schools are required to collect a copy of immunization records, or signed exemption forms, for each student. Each year, immunization information for all students in 6th grade, Kindergarten, and child care/preschool must be submitted by the school to ADHS. This information is reported in aggregate form, meaning no personally identifiable information is given, through an online application called the Immunization Data Report (IDR).

This year, after two years of decreasing exemption rates, the percentage of students exempt from one or more vaccines rose across all age categories. In child care, the exemptions rose from 3.5% to 3.9%, from 4.5% to 4.9% for Kindergarten, and from 4.4% to 5.1% for 6th grade. This increase in exemption rates led to a decrease in coverage rates for both Kindergarten and 6th grade, however, coverage rates for child care rose compared to last year. The most likely cause of this difference is that exemptions for personal beliefs are allowed for K-12 students, while exemptions for religious beliefs only are allowed for child care. Medical exemptions are allowed for all ages.

When assessing IDR data, it is important to note the difference between coverage and compliance. Coverage rates refer to the percentage of students who are fully immunized, while compliance rates refer to the percentage of students who are either fully immunized OR have the appropriate exemption forms filed with the school.  Therefore, a school might have low coverage rates, but remain in compliance with the law.

Maintaining high immunization rates is critical to prevent outbreaks of dangerous vaccine preventable disease in our communities. A rise in exemptions is concerning, and public health is acting to curb this trend. Over the coming months, we’ll be enhancing the education we provide to parents about vaccines and their importance to children and our communities. Online education modules are in development and will be promoted through our website and local public health departments.

Our Immunization Program Office assessment staff works directly with healthcare providers to develop and implement quality improvement strategies to monitor and raise immunization rates in their practice. We also collaborate with The Arizona Partnership for Immunization (TAPI) to develop free annual immunization provider training sessions called “Training on Immunization Practice Strategies”, or T.I.P.S., that provide information on immunization-friendly office practices, vaccine storage and handling, state immunization requirements, how to give immunizations, and the state immunization registry.

For more information regarding vaccine requirements and educational information please visit our Schools & Childcare Centers webpage.