Hundreds of Arizona schools still skirting measles-vaccination law

Hundreds of Arizona schools still skirting measles-vaccination law

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About three in every 10 kindergartners who enrolled during the most recent school year without measles vaccines were missing the required exemption forms, according to Arizona Department of Health Services data analyzed by azcentral.com.

The data include schools with kindergartens with 20 or more students. The numbers were similar to an analysis a year and a half ago, despite last year’s measles scare.

Arizona immunization law calls on schools to suspend students who are not vaccinated and do not have exemptions. The waiver requires parents who choose not to vaccinate to sign that they understand the risks, essentially forcing them to make a conscious decision about whether to vaccinate their kids.

But hundreds of Arizona schools did not require all parents to turn in signed waivers when they enrolled their unvaccinated children in 2015, according to records reviewed by The Republic.

The state’s Department of Health Services has been aware of schools’ violation of the immunization law at least since 2012. That is when the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson reported it. And in early 2015, when an outbreak of measles was reported in Kearney, The Republic reported it in three stories.

The state for the first time began sending letters to schools that included  notification of their exemption-form compliance rates for the most recent school year, said Jessica Rigler, bureau chief of epidemiology and disease control.

Schools use exemption papers to track unvaccinated students so they can send them home if another student contracts measles. The forms also serve as a way to ensure the state has done everything it can to educate parents about the dangers of the diseases, Rigler said.

But the state does not have enforcement measures behind the law, Rigler said, and all her staff can do is work with the schools to bring them into compliance. The law clearly instructs schools to suspend students who are missing vaccination documents and exemption forms but does not define any penalties.

The data aren’t perfect. Schools must send reports by November, so students missing vaccines or exemption forms may have turned them in after the deadline or may have moved. Some schools also don’t report accurate information. Also, Rigler said, the state expects some portion of the students with exemption forms to actually have been vaccinated, but their parents found it easier to sign the form than to locate medical records.

What is your kindergarten’s vaccination rate?
Search for your school in the bar below to see what measles vaccination rate that the school reported to the state for 2015 to 2016 school year. Schools report the data by the end of November of each year to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Schools with fewer than 20 children enrolled in kindergarten are not included.

Not looking for a specific school? Hit enter with a blank search field and you’ll see the whole database.

Source: Arizona Department of Health Services
Credit: Caitlin McGlade/The Republic