Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
DPH Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Democratic legislative leaders told state Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell that they want her guidance on how to increase vaccination rates in Connecticut.

Senate President Martin Looney, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter thanked Coleman-Mitchell for the school-level vaccine data released on May 3, but they asked for more guidance on how to proceed.

The data for the 2017-18 school year indicated that 109 schools had kindergartens or seventh grades with immunization rates below the 95% standard for measles, mumps, and rubella.

“In some cases, the rates are 15%-30% below what is recommended by the CDC,” they wrote. “The vaccination data your office provided this past May was a concrete illustration of this alarming trend, and we thank you and your staff for being available to the Legislature to explain this complex issue in relatable terms. However, we are in need of additional data and policy recommendations from your agency to help inform legislative decisions on this important topic going forward.”

The public health department was expected to release the latest school-level vaccination data this month for the 2018-19 school year, but there is no indication the information will be released. The DPH was not immediately available for comment on the request from legislative leaders.

Further, there’s a chance the department is not going to release the information because they are currently being sued. The parents of a child who attends a school in Meriden with a high number of religious exemptions filed a civil lawsuit against the department in an effort to prevent the release of the additional vaccination data. The attorney general’s office asked for an extension to respond to the lawsuit until after July 15.

Coleman-Mitchell said on May 3 that when the data was initially released the goal of sharing it was “to increase public awareness of vaccination rates in local communities. Hopefully, this will lead to more engagement and focus on increasing immunization rates to reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

In the meantime, Democratic legislative leaders said they want the department to answer three questions in preparation for the 2020 legislative session.

1. “What additional statutory authority, if any, does the Department of Public Health need to (i) increase vaccination rates in certain schools and (ii) to close schools in the case of an outbreak of certain diseases?”

2. “What approach should the State take to protect children who are currently enrolled or will enroll in schools who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions such as immune system disorders and/or risk of allergic reactions?”

3. “Should Connecticut remove the religious exemption from state law like Maine recently did and other states have done, or is there an alternative that will similarly increase vaccination rates in under-vaccinated schools and protect children who cannot be vaccinated?”