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Public health agency releases religious exemption data
Connecticut public health officials have publicly released data for the first time showing how many students in individual schools are exempt from certain vaccinations for religious or medical reasons.
The Department of Public Health posted the town-by-town, school-by-school information Friday on its website.
Dr. Matthew Cartter, the state epidemiologist, said he recommended the information be released publicly because the U.S. is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of measles in 25 years.
The agency, he said, has been getting requests for the information from parents of children who are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated, state legislators and news reporters who question why the same detailed information about exemptions can be obtained in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.
“In the middle of the largest outbreak, if we were going to do this, this is the time to make this data available so people can understand their risk,” Cartter said. “We are not done with the measles outbreak.”
Connecticut has had three confirmed cases of measles this year.
Up until Friday, the state provided only statewide immunization rates. Currently, 96.5% of the state’s kindergarten students are immunized for measles, mumps and rubella. But Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said there’s been a “troubling trend” of more and more youngsters entering school not fully vaccinated.
Local school officials were notified about the release of information.
Democratic legislative leaders voiced concern that the data show more than 100 out of more than 1,300 public and private schools listed fall below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 95 percent immunization rate for measles, mumps and rubella vaccines among kindergarteners.
“”These numbers are shocking,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, who believes the General Assembly should vote on whether to eliminate the religious exemption. “The more students who are vaccinated, the safer a school is from an outbreak of measles or other vaccine-preventable disease.”
But LeeAnn Ducat, founder of Informed Choice CT, a group that argues vaccination should be a choice, was among a small group of parents that protested outside the Department of Public Health offices on Friday, arguing the data contains errors and shouldn’t have been released. Ducat said the report skewed the numbers and unnecessarily confused many people.
“They’re acting like there are these little Typhoid Marys walking around everywhere, and they’re just inciting panic in people,” Ducat said.
Redding schools Superintendent Tom McMorran said wrong information was mistakenly submitted to the state for Redding Elementary School, where he says only 4.7% of students have been exempted from vaccinations for religious reasons this year. The database listed 38%. McMorran sent an email to parents Friday letting them know the number was erroneous.
Cartter said the agency has heard concerns from at least two schools about the accuracy of the numbers and plans to update the database. The information is provided to the state agency from the schools.
This story has been corrected to show 4.7% of Redding Elementary School students have religious exemptions, not 38% as was included in state data.