A quarter of Chilmark school kindergartners receive vaccine exemption

Several Vineyard elementary schools have the highest percentage of kindergarten students exempt from at least one immunization in Massachusetts, according to an average of state statistics over the past three years.

Chilmark schools have the second-highest enrollment in the state, according to data compiled by The Boston Globe. About 23% of kindergarten students in island schools are exempt from at least one vaccine.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) ranked seventh in the state with a score of 12.90%. Edgartown schools (ranked 21st) and West Tisbury schools (ranked 28th) had rates of 9.20% and 7.90%, respectively.

Tisbury School and Oak Bluffs Elementary School have lower kindergarten exemption rates, at 3.10% and 2.20%, respectively.

The state average is about one percent. From 2022 to 2023, Massachusetts approved 813 religious exemptions for kindergarten across the state, nearly triple the number 30 years ago.

Massachusetts requires students in kindergarten through 12th grade to receive five doses of DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine, four doses of polio vaccine, two doses of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, three doses of hepatitis B vaccine, and two varicella (chickenpox) vaccines.

David T. Caron Jr., vice president of diagnostic and therapeutic services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, said herd immunity of about 90% is needed to prevent various diseases from spreading in the population.

In 2022-2023, 90.9% of Dukes County kindergartners received all required doses of each vaccine. Vaccine exemption statistics for 2022-2023 are for Edgartown Schools and Oak Bluffs Elementary Schools only. Duke kindergartners had the lowest percentage of children receiving all doses of varicella vaccine, at 92.0%. Having all polio and hepatitis B series was the most common, accounting for 94.3%.

Religious exemptions dominated the island’s kindergarten exemptions last year, with its exemption total well ahead of other counties. Dukes County leads in the total exemption and religious exemption categories, both at 6.3%. The second-highest exempt county is Franklin County, with 4.0% of the total population and 3.8% of the religious population.

Dukes County also led the state in vaccination exemptions for the 2015-2016 school year.

For religious exemptions, Massachusetts requires a letter from a parent, guardian or individual stating that the vaccine conflicts with the individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

MVPCS Director Peter Steedman said the process for processing these religious exemptions is straightforward. “The law allows families a religious exemption. So when they offer it, we don’t pry and we don’t ask why. “It’s something we have to respect. “

For medical exemptions, Massachusetts requires doctors to provide a contraindication — “a reason why an individual cannot medically receive the vaccine.”

While Chilmark Schools Superintendent Susan Stevens did not comment on the factors behind the exemption, she did say many parents prefer not to vaccinate their children all at once.

“Generally speaking, most people prefer to have (immunizations) spaced out over time rather than all at birth,” Chancellor Stevens said. “For them, it’s more of an ‘I (Kids) are given all the vaccines, but instead of giving them all when they’re little…(just) they give them three or four when they’re 6 years old, and eventually “they all have it. “

Although Dukes County has a relatively high exemption rate in 2022-2023, its share of kindergarteners not meeting school immunization requirements is relatively low at 2.8%, compared with the state county average of 4.1%. This statistic measures kindergarteners who did not receive all required doses and were not exempt.

Cullen said work to address immunization issues in the state’s public schools is ongoing. He mentioned the work of the hospital-sponsored MV vaccine working group. “One of our goals this year is to facilitate conversations with health care leaders and our school systems to develop standards regarding waivers,” Cullen said.

Cullen said Massachusetts is also increasingly paying attention to school immunization statistics. “We’re encouraged by new school immunization rollout in Massachusetts The investigation will be conducted in September 2023 and will be concluded in January 2024. This will help provide more up-to-date statistics so that we can improve and address gaps in our work.

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