HARTFORD, CT — After months of hinting that she would make it public, Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell decided not to release the 2018-2019 school-level vaccine data.
“In Connecticut, we have only had three measles cases so far in 2019 and the last case was in April,” Coleman-Mitchell said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “Given that we have not had any further measles cases since April and because the immunization rate for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines in Connecticut remains above 95 percent statewide, we will not be releasing immunization rates by school for the 2018-2019 school year at this time. The Department of Public Health will be releasing county level immunization data in October, as pursuant to standard protocol.”
The county-level data won’t show whether there have been increases or decreases in religious exemptions at specific schools, and it won’t give parents any idea whether the school their child attends has achieved herd immunity, which for measles is 95%.
Coleman-Mitchell released the 2017-2018 school-level data in May for the first time since DPH has been gathering the information.
The 2017-2018 data showed 109 schools had kindergartens or seventh grades with immunization rates below the 95% standard for measles, mumps, and rubella.
To derive the immunization data, schools report to the DPH the total number of students in kindergarten and seventh grade in each school, and then they report the total number of students who had either shown proof of vaccination or claimed an exemption.
The data that was released showed concentrations of religious exemptions in certain schools. It also prompted a lawsuit by one family who called the release of the disaggregated data an “invasion of privacy.”
Earlier this month, officials from the DPH said it’s not their place to tell the legislature whether to eliminate the religious exemption.
That’s “not in the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health,” according to department spokesman Av Harris.
He defined it as a “philosophical, societal question” that lawmakers need to answer. “The ball is in the court of the legislators,” Harris said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said of Coleman-Mitchell’s turnabout, “We’re all a little confused.”
Ritter said he would understand if the commissioner said she couldn’t release the information because of the lawsuit, but if there is an increase in the number of people claiming religious exemptions, lawmakers need to know about it. Similarly, Ritter said if the number of exemptions has decreased because of the release of the data, then that’s something lawmakers also want to know because it means public awareness has led to more children being vaccinated.
However, “if you’re sitting on that data and you have schools that are worse, that’s a very serious problem,” Ritter warned.
A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont supported Coleman-Mitchell’s decision.
“The circumstances of the release of the school-by-school data earlier this year by the Department of Public Health were unique and necessary at the time,” Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said. “The national health emergency surrounding measles was the contributing reason for that release. In the interests of public health, the governor strongly supports the disclosure of broad data from the Department of Public Health to inform citizens of immunization rates. Governor Lamont supports legislation that would allow for the release of school-by-school data on an annual basis to keep families as informed as possible.”