The results of a study recently published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that only Oregon has a higher number of parents choosing to opt out of vaccinating their children than Idaho.
The study examined kindergarten populations and found exemptions are on the rise in 12 of the 18 states that allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. Of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of unvaccinated students in the country, eight are in Idaho – including nearby Kootenai and Benewah counties.
Moscow School District Superintendent Greg Bailey said Latah County’s rates are better than most in the state.
According to a second report released Thursday by the Idaho Immunization Program, vaccination rates among all Latah County students rest just above 96 percent – higher the state’s overall compliance rate of 86.8 percent and even beating out the target rate of 95 percent.
“We worked hard on it,” Bailey said. “We were pretty hard-nosed with parents in regards to that we gave them a notice and basically said if you don’t have it done by a certain date, you’re not allowed to come to school.”
Bailey said in the event of an outbreak, MSD has a policy that unvaccinated students must stay out of school for 21 days to ensure they are not infected and capable of spreading the disease. Bailey said those absences would be counted as unexcused, making it particularly problematic for unvaccinated high schoolers who are required to have a 90 percent attendance rate.
“If a high school kid isn’t immunized and a virus comes out, basically they’re going to lose credit for that whole semester,” Bailey said.
Gritman Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Bob Kendrick said part of Latah County’s success with vaccination rates when compared to the rest of the state can be credited to a local wealth of health care resources and education. In addition to having large health care facilities like Gritman Medical Center within reasonable driving distance, Kendrick said county residents also benefit from having a local office of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and nearby universities to help emphasize education and provide affordable options.
“When you look at populations that are really vulnerable, they would be those that don’t have access,” Kendrick said. “The advent of health departments across the United States has been a real help and a real blessing to people, particularly those where cost is a big concern.”
Kendrick said while the anti-vaccination movement seems to be growing, science just doesn’t support assertions that vaccines are dangerous to children. He said widespread inoculations have caused instances of diseases like measles, mumps and pertussis to go “way, way, way down,” and vaccines are credited with virtually eradicating smallpox.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Kendrick said. “You look at it, (and) you just see the number of childhood deaths has gone down significantly with the advent of vaccinations.”
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