As educators and school administrators, we believe school immunization laws should grant exemptions to children for bona fide medical reasons. All other children should be required to be vaccinated to enroll in school in order to attain “community immunity.”
Community immunity, according the National Institutes of Health, is achieved when enough of a community is immunized, protecting most other members from infection because there’s little opportunity for the disease to spread.
In Connecticut last year, an alarming statistic came to light: More than 130 schools fell below the 95 percent threshold of immunity, creating concern among public health officials, parents, the healthcare community, and educators across the state.
When immunization levels drop below 95 percent – the community immunity threshold for measles — as they have already in 134 Connecticut schools, children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons are put at risk.
To put it another way: when more than 5 percent of school children are not fully immunized, unvaccinated children create a serious health risk for their classmates with conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated.
Last year, data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health showed the ranks of students whose parents sought exemption from state-mandated vaccinations was in the double digits (ranging from 15 percent to nearly 38 percent) in schools in three Connecticut communities. This is not acceptable.
We recognize that not all children can be immunized – for example, those being treated for childhood cancers who often have weakened immune systems. We also acknowledge that some parents have sincere objections to full vaccination for their children and we respect their personal and religious beliefs – but choosing to invoke non-medical exemption to vaccination for their children presents serious health risks for other children who have the right to attend school and who – not by choice – are battling serious health conditions.
In concert with the Vaccination Alliance of Connecticut, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents is committed to the well-being and education of all Connecticut school students. We believe that immunizations, as outlined by the state Department of Public Health, be required of all healthy children attending school in Connecticut.
Frances Rabinowitz is Executive Director of the Connecticut Association for Public School Superintendents.