School vaccination rates healthy

BAR HARBOR — Vaccination rates among kindergarten and first-grade students in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) are relatively healthy, according to data compiled by Wanda Fernald, the school nurse and health educator at Mount Desert Elementary School.

All school districts in the state are required to report their vaccination numbers for students in the first two grades to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says schools should have a vaccination rate of 95 percent or higher for measles, mumps and rubella to achieve the “herd immunization” that helps prevent the spread of these diseases.

Seven MDIRSS elementary schools have kindergarten and first-grade students this year. There are a total of 102 kindergarten students and, coincidentally, the same number of first grade students.

The overall vaccination rate among MDIRSS kindergarten students is 96.8 percent, according to Fernald. The rate among first graders district-wide is 91.4 percent. But Fernald pointed out that if just one more student had been vaccinated, that percentage would be very close to the CDC’s benchmark.

A recent analysis of Maine CDC data by the Maine Sunday Telegram of Portland found that some elementary schools in the state have extremely low vaccination rates. The newspaper cited, for example, the Fiddlehead School of Arts & Science in Gray, where only 37.5 percent of kindergarten students had the required immunizations. The lowest rate among first-grade students was 55 percent at Bay Ridge Elementary in Cutler. In more than three dozen elementary schools in Maine, fewer than 80 percent of students had been vaccinated.

Fernald said people should be aware of the importance of schools having high rates of childhood immunizations, and not only for the protection of healthy children. Vaccination also protects at-risk members of the community.

“Today, more than ever, we have students and adults who are vulnerable due to chronic disease [such as] asthma, diabetes and cancer,” Fernald said. “Protecting them from preventable diseases that could be life threatening should be weighed against individual choice not to vaccinate.”

In Maine, parents may choose not to have their children vaccinated, but they must state their reason in writing. They may get a note from a physician exempting the child for medical reasons, but Fernald said that is rare. Parents also may opt out for religious reasons, but that, too, happens infrequently.

The much more common reason parents give is their philosophical objection to vaccines. The Maine Legislature last month rejected a bill that would have disallowed immunization exemptions “because of a person’s philosophical beliefs.”

If there is a case of measles or other vaccine-preventable disease in a school, then all non-vaccinated students must stay out of school during the incubation period. For measles, that period is 21 days.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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