WV School Immunization Requirements Lead to High Vaccination Rates, Low Disease Rates

WEST VIRGINIA – This fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report with new data from schools across the country detailing 2017-2018 kindergarten vaccination rates. The data showed that kindergarteners in West Virginia public schools had vaccination rates that exceeded most other states, with vaccination coverage rates at about 98% for MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella), DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis), and Varicella (chickenpox) vaccines. Comparatively, the US median kindergarten coverage rate for these vaccines was 94.3%, 95.1% and 93.8%, respectively. This same report also noted that the percentage of kindergartners in the U.S. with an exemption from at least one vaccine has continued to increase over the last three years.

Other data recently reported by the CDC, which was collected through the National Immunization Survey, showed that an estimated 74.7% of West Virginian children 19-35 months of age are fully vaccinated. Although, the early childhood vaccination rate increased in WV, this same report also noted that, nationwide, the percent of young children who haven’t received any vaccines has quadrupled since 2001.

A press release from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) voiced concern about the “about the latest skepticism and resistance originating from the anti-vaccination movement,” noting that increasing numbers of vaccine refusal “may put our country at risk for significant infectious disease outbreaks and their related health consequences, including death, because of declining vaccination rates.” The current measles outbreaks in New York and New Jersey and a chickenpox outbreak in North Carolina have been fueled by vaccine-refusal, supported by nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements.

“While the majority of parents choose to vaccinate their children – and vaccinate them on schedule – the increasing number of parents nationwide who refuse to vaccinate their children is very concerning,” said Sabrina McKinney, Director of Nursing at the Rainelle Medical Center. “We are fortunate that in West Virginia we have effective school immunization requirements that ensure that when children begin kindergarten, they are up to date on their vaccines and protected from dangerous diseases,” stated McKinney.

To interrupt and prevent the spread of infectious diseases, vaccination rates must reach a certain level, known as community (herd) immunity. For a highly contagious disease like measles, vaccination rates must be at least 95% to achieve community immunity. According to Michelle Chappell, a Senior Manager for State Health Systems with the American Cancer Society, “maintaining high vaccination rates is incredibly important: it not only protects the vaccinated person from the disease, it also helps to ensure that those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, such as an allergy to a vaccine component, people who have a weakened immune system, and babies, who are too young to receive the vaccine, are all protected from these deadly diseases as well. This is an important part of protecting our schools and communities from diseases that are preventable.”

The World Health Organization has reported that low vaccination rates in Europe have fueled measles outbreaks throughout the region with over 41,000 infected children and adults and 37 deaths this year.

West Virginia has not had a single case of measles since 2009. According to America’s Health Rankings, West Virginia’s  pertussis (whooping cough) incidence rates have fallen below the national rates for the last five years.

Although West Virginia, like many states impacted by the current opioid crisis, is experiencing outbreaks of Hepatitis A in some communities, the outbreak has occurred primarily among high risk adults who were not vaccinated as children. Hepatitis A vaccination is routinely recommended for young children.

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