The Public Health Department says the number of new religious exemptions increased slightly in the 2019-20 school year, but there were fewer schools with kindergarten classes that fell below the 95% vaccination threshold for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

The dataset for the 2019-20 school year – released in advance of Tuesday’s Public Health Committee public hearing on a bill that would eliminate the religious exemption for elementary school vaccination requirements – showed that of the schools with more than 30 kindergarten students, 120 had MMR vaccination rates below 95%, including 26 schools with rates below 90%.

The schools in 2019-20 with the lowest level of MMR immunizations were the Museum Academy in Bloomfield at 53%, Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven at 55.4%, SAND School in Hartford at 60%, and The Children’s School in Stamford at 60%. The schools with the highest percent of religious exemptions were Housatonic Valley School in Newtown, Giant Steps CT School in Fairfield, North Stonington Christian Academy in North Stonington, the Children’s Tree Montessori School Inc. in Old Saybrook, The Speech Academy in Easton, and the Wildwood Christian School in Norwich. Those six schools each had religious exemption rates higher than 20%.

In the 2018-19 school year, the data indicated that 134 schools‘ kindergarteners had immunization rates for MMR below 95% and at least 41 of those were under 90%. That same year, 23 seventh grade schools were below 95% for the MMR vaccine. 

In 2019-20, there were 26 seventh grades below the 95% for the MMR vaccine. 

And the overall average MMR vaccination rates for public schools in 2019-20 was 96.5%. Private schools averaged 92.1%.

Also during the 2019-20 school year, 1,536 new kindergarteners and seventh graders claimed a religious exemption. That’s 1.9% of all kindergarteners and seventh graders, which is up from 1.8% in the 2018-19. The data is specific to the total number of students new to those grades.

The data also found that the percentage of kindergarteners utilizing a religious exemption – 2.3% – was a decrease of 0.2% below the previous year’s mark of 2.5%. The national average is 2.2%. 

The percentage of kindergarten students with a medical exemption has remained fairly constant at 0.2% in 2019-20, compared with 0.3% during previous years.

The state originally didn’t report the total number of religious exemptions, just the newest ones. In October 2020 the state reported that there were 7,800 students who abstained from mandatory vaccines using the religious exemption.

The state responded on Tuesday that there were more than 8,300 children with a religious exemption filed for the 2019-20 school year.

Already, the co-chairs of the Public Health Committee warned that the data might not be useful because the year was cut short by the global pandemic last March and children did not go back to in-school activities until later this fall. However, parents provide the data to the schools in the fall, and then the school districts share the information with the Department of Public Health.

The Department of Public Health includes a disclaimer with the information that says “All data are self-reported by schools and discrepancies may exist. The Immunization Program works with schools to resolve discrepancies and update immunization data, when possible.”

“Children are allowed a medical or religious exemption to one or more vaccines. Vaccine exemption data is collected on the child and not on each vaccine,” DPH states. “Therefore, children with exemptions are counted as exempt although they may have received some vaccines not counted in the survey.”

This is only the third year the school-by-school data has been shared with the public. The Department of Public Health has been collecting the data since at least 2012.