CONNECTICUT (WABC) -- Declining measles vaccination rates throughout Connecticut preceded this year's multi-state measles outbreak, in which Connecticut confirmed at least three cases, according to 2018/2019 immunization data released by the Connecticut Department of Public Health this week.
At the kindergarten grade level, 134 schools -- or roughly one out of every four schools for which information was available -- reported measles vaccination rates below the 95% threshold recommended by doctors to help prevent an outbreak.
"It doesn't take a lot of people not vaccinating their children for that rate to fall below 95%, and then the whole community is at risk," said Dr. Roberto Posada, an infectious diseases expert at Mount Sinai.
Off the 733 kindergartens listed by the Public Health Department, the state did not release immunization rates for 186 schools, often indicating low enrollment and a desire to protect student privacy.
Additionally, the number of Connecticut kindergarten students with religious exemptions from vaccines during the 2018/2019 school year increased by 23% compared to the prior year, while the number of students with medical exemptions decreased by 32%.
The same trend occurred for 7th grade students during the 2018/2019 school year. Schools reported an 8% increase in 7th grade students with religious exemptions and a 17% decrease in 7th grade students with medical exemptions compared to the prior year.
Connecticut only provides grade by grade comparisons at the kindergarten and 7th-grade levels.
Historical health data indicates vaccine exemption rates in Connecticut have climbed year over year every year since 1999, except for four years when the exemption rates remained steady or decreased slightly.
Statewide, the Public Health Department reported a 96.1% immunization rate among kindergartners for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine during the 2018/2019 school year. For public schools, the average MMR vaccination rate was 96.4%. It was slightly lower for private schools at 92.4%.
"While it is good that state-wide in Connecticut we are still meeting the federally recommended MMR vaccination rate of 95% for kindergartners, I am very concerned that the number of schools falling short of this important immunization level continues to rise," DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said. "The data reveal that a sharp rise in the number of religious exemptions is causing declining immunization rates. This unnecessarily puts our children at risk for contracting measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. To address this unnecessary risk, I have recommended to Governor (Ned) Lamont and legislative leadership that non-medical exemptions to vaccination be repealed. This will help ensure that all children in our state can learn in a healthy environment."
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134 Connecticut kindergartens have MMR vaccination rates below federal guidelines