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Article Published October 29, 2019
Vaccination Numbers Low at Chester Elementary School
Karena Garrity

The percentage of children at Chester Elementary School (CES) who are unvaccinated, 7.2 percent, continues to exceed the rate of no more than five percent unvaccinated recommended by the state, according to the latest figures from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

The report for the 2018-’19 school year (the most recent available) says that the full 7.2 percent of children who are unvaccinated is attributable to parents claiming a religious exemption.

According to the DPH, vaccination is a medical intervention with direct benefits to both individuals and communities. When a large percentage of a population is vaccinated, the entire community (vaccinated and unvaccinated) receives additional protection from vaccine preventable diseases. This concept, known as “herd immunity,” is a primary justification for mandatory vaccination policies in the United States. By following the recommended schedule and fully immunizing children on time, parents protect their children against 14 vaccine preventable diseases. High percentages of vaccinated children also help prevent outbreaks.

At Deep River Elementary School, 3.3 percent of students are unvaccinated; in Essex Elementary School, the figure is 2.1 percent. At John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River, the percentage of unvaccinated students is 1.8 percent and at Valley Regional High School, 0.2 percent.

Superintendent of Region 4 Schools Brian White said, “The schools of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Region 4 will continue to abide by state statue concerning the requirements for student vaccination.”

State Representative Christine Palm (D-36), who represents Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam, is among the House Democrats asking caucus leadership in the State of Connecticut to raise a bill this year to remove the religious exemption on vaccines, which many people use to explain a philosophical opposition to vaccines but which may place other students and staff at risk.

“A 92.8 percent vaccination rate is still below the recommended threshold that guarantees herd immunity,” Palm said of the CES situation. “Science tells us it’s vital for vaccination rates to stay above 95 percent in order for the wider population of students to be protected, especially those with compromised immune systems.

“I realize that with a very small school population, this number may represent only a few families, but percentages are a relative proportion of the entire population, so this number is of concern,” she added.

The number of unvaccinated children at CES has decreased from the 2017-’18 number of 10.2 percent. Although DPH figures for the current school year are not yet available, school personnel reported CES rates of unvaccinated students have dropped again this year, to 6.7 percent.

Palm said she has both in her district and at the Capitol with some members of the anti-vaccination movement. She explained that a widely cited study that draws a correlation between vaccinations and autism has long been debunked.

“I believe in individual choice, both of religion and medical protocol, as long as they do not affect others,” Palm said. “Abortion, birth control, whether or not to circumcise a male baby, preventive mastectomy for women with the BRCA gene, to name but a few, are personal decisions that require much thought, and none is entered into lightly by the patient or parent. But, none of these affects the overall population and so should remain a personal choice. The decision not to give a child protection against MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella], on the other hand, imperils not only that child, but the wider community of students.”

Virtually all of the exemptions claimed for not vaccinating children in the 36th District, as elsewhere, are under the religious exemption, Palm said. Under legislation she would like to see enacted, while no one would be forced to vaccinate a child, that children who are not vaccinated would not be permitted to attend a public school.

“Given the excellent rates in the upper grades, this trend against vaccinations is more prevalent with younger parents, who do not remember the devastation childhood diseases like measles wrought upon generations before immunizations were created,” Palm said. “All medical advances carry some risk, but the preponderance of evidence is clearly in favor of inoculating against MMR, and I certainly hope the numbers of parents rejecting these advances does not continue to rise.”

Find the complete list of Connecticut schools vaccination reports at portal.ct.gov/DPH/Immunizations/School-Survey.