Percentage of vaccinated kindergarteners Credit: Courtesy of DPH

The percentage of Connecticut kindergarten students who were not in compliance with state vaccination requirements grew by almost 1% during the 2020 – 2021 school year, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Public Health Department.

The number of kindergarteners who were not adhering to measles, mumps and rubella vaccine rules rose from 1.3% in 2019 – 2020 to 2.1% in 2020 – 2021. 

Students are counted as compliant if they have submitted proof of immunity, such as vaccination records, or have submitted a valid exemption. Students are counted as not compliant if they have not submitted documented proof of immunity, are on a catch-up schedule, or have a doctor’s note verifying a scheduled appointment to receive vaccines.

“By releasing this school immunization data, we want to remind parents and the public of the importance of all vaccines, which help make schools safer and reduce the risks associated with these preventable diseases,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, state public health commissioner, said in a press release.

The school vaccination data was collected prior to the effective date of a law passed last year that eliminated for new students the religious exemption to state vaccine rules, meaning Wednesday’s report offers no insight on the effectiveness of the new statute. 

The law repealing any new religious exemptions was signed April 28, 2021. The court has also upheld challenges to the law, which drew thousands of protesters to the state Capitol last year. 

Instead, Wednesday’s report shows the percentage of kindergarten students with religious exemptions remaining stable at 2.3%. That puts Connecticut slightly higher than the national average. Nationwide, an average of 2.2% of kindergarten students claimed a non-medical exemption to vaccine requirements.

In a press release, DPH officials suggested the lower compliance rates may be attributable in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was conducted during the fall of 2020 as many schools were still partially remote. Meanwhile, some parents were reluctant to schedule in-person appointments with doctors and school nurses, according to the agency statement. 

According to the Public Health Department, populations reach herd immunity to measles when vaccination rates reach 95%. This year’s report finds the state’s public schools MMR vaccination rates declining but remaining above that threshold at 95.4%. Connecticut’s private schools, meanwhile, have dipped below the herd immunity threshold and now stand at 93.2%. Of the schools with more than 30 kindergarten students, 146 schools have MMR rates below 95%, 53 of which have MMR rates below 90%.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani at a press conference Wednesday Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“High vaccination rates protect not only vaccinated children but also those who cannot or have not been vaccinated and this is what is known as herd immunity,” Juthani said. “Schools that achieve herd immunity reduce the risk of outbreaks. High vaccination rates at schools are especially important for medically fragile children who depend on herd immunity for their health and well-being.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is not on the schedule of mandated childhood vaccines.