Most students at Montezuma County schools are up-to-date on vaccines, but some area schools have higher vaccination exemption rates than the state averages, according to data released this month by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In general, smaller schools across the region and the state have higher exemption rates than larger schools. At most schools along Colorado’s Front Range and Interstate 70 corridor, 95 percent or more of students are up-to-date. In the state’s rural areas, rates vary.
In most schools in Montezuma County, fewer than 95 percent of students are up-to-date, which might not be enough to ward off a breakout of disease.
In Colorado, parents may exempt their students from receiving vaccinations on medical, religious or personal grounds.
Virginia Hernandez, Immunization Coordinator for Southwest Health System in Cortez, said some area schools may face difficulties in reporting immunization data because it is complex. Some parents might struggle to find time to bring their children to the clinic to get updated on shots, Hernandez said.
“If they’re behind, it’s OK,” Hernandez said. “We help them get up-to-date.”
Southwest Health System and the Montezuma County Public Health Department participate in Vaccines For Children, a program of the federal Centers for Disease Control that provides vaccines for eligible children at no cost to parents.
Southwest Health System is also working with the Cortez and Mancos school districts to offer school-based health clinics. Those clinics have helped provide more convenient access to vaccines for students and parents, Hernandez said.
Across the state, about 86 percent of schools provided data to CDPHE from students in the 2016-2017 school year. That includes 1,801 schools and more than 864,000 students. All the data is self-reported by schools and child-care centers and is not validated by CDPHE, according to the department’s website.
An average of 93.4 percent of students at reporting schools were up-to-date on six vaccinations that are required for students entering K-12 schools, according to the data.
The data considers how many students are up-to-date on six vaccine types – hepatitis B, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), varicella and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). Students entering a K-12 school are required to have those six vaccines.
Pertussis is commonly known as whooping cough. The DTaP vaccine is given to children under 7, and the Tdap vaccine is a booster given to kids at age 11 to provide continued protection for those diseases through adolescence and adulthood, according to WebMD.
The Colorado Board of Health passed a rule in May 2016 that requires all public, private and parochial K-12 schools to report immunization data to CDPHE. Preschools, child care facilities and head Starts with ten or more children enrolled also must report that data.
Most immunizations take place in kids age 2 to 18 months, while they are preschool-age, Hernandez said. Kids get boosters around age 4, before they enter kindergarten, and another round of booster shots at age 11, she said. After that, they’re done with required immunizations, excluding some shots such as a yearly flu shot, she added.
Though the CDPHE data is mostly accurate, Hernandez said there are some exceptions that the data may not show. Different states follow different immunization schedules, so when a child moves from one state to another, he or she may not be considered up to date according to the new state’s schedule, Hernandez said.
When 90-95 percent of people in a certain population are immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the population will be protected against the disease because the risk of an outbreak is minimized, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. This is known as community, or herd, immunity.
Hernandez said a community should have closer to 95 percent of people immunized for herd immunity to take effect. Most communities and schools in Colorado aren’t there yet, she said.
Hernandez encouraged parents who are concerned about vaccinating their children to make sure sources are valid. Though there is always a risk when putting something into your body, vaccines are “incredibly safe,” she said.
Hernandez said many parents who don’t immunize their kids don’t understand what communicable diseases can do, because now they are so rare. She said she remembers being ill with measles and whooping cough as a child, and several of her family member have experienced polio, so she has seen the effects of those diseases firsthand.
“These diseases follow you for the rest of your life,” Hernandez said. “They never go away and get worse as you get older.”