CLICK TO ENLARGE: A sample from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s compilation of school immunization rates, recently made public
Amid the current Disneyland-vector measles outbreak and the new spotlight it’s putting on vaccine gaps, many a parent is wondering: What’s the vaccination rate at my own child’s school? What are the chances that my kid will come into contact with an unvaccinated kid? And does our school make the cut-off for “herd immunity,” that desirable state when so many people are vaccinated that even if a bug gets in, it’s unlikely to spread?
USA Today has published a beautifully granular look-up tool of vaccination rates broken down by school, with data for 13 states, including Massachusetts. Its interface lets you look up a specific school by typing in its name.
But we in Massachusetts are particularly data-rich, in that the state Department of Public Health has just recently posted a spreadsheet of all our schools, grouped together by town; that means we can not only check a particular school’s rate but also compare it with its neighbors’.
The full state list of schools and their kindergarten vaccination rates is here, in an easy format that looks like the spreadsheet shown above.
So what are we to make of these numbers, particularly if our own school’s rate looks low?
I spoke with Pejman Talebian, chief of the immunization service at the state’s Department of Public Health. My biggest takeaway: If your school’s numbers look low, don’t freak out. It could be an artifact of under-reporting, particularly if the numbers of vaccine exemptions are low. But there are, he said, pockets of concern, particularly on Cape Cod and in western Massachusetts, where the numbers of exemptions tend to be high and vaccination rates lower than desired.
Our conversation, lightly edited:
What would you hope that parents and school communities do with this data?
We hope that it starts conversations around immunization. And we hope that in areas of the state where there are lower rates, and higher rates of exemptions, it prompts more conversations between health care providers in those communities, local health officials in those communities, and the community as a whole — that they talk about the benefits of immunization, prompting folks to potentially reconsider their stance around immunization. Hopefully, it will lead to more individuals seeking to be fully vaccinated.
“These pockets are not in lower-income city areas, they generally tend to be in middle and upper middle class communities.”
– Pejman Talebian,
state Department of Public Health
Is there anything that communities should be sure not to do?
I wouldn’t take one data point around one specific school and assume there’s definitely a concern or definitely a problem. This is all self-reported information and some of it may not be a true reflection of what is the actual immunization coverage in the school. So if you do see a school with what appears to be very low immunization rates, that doesn’t mean that that school is definitely ripe for an outbreak tomorrow and that’s a major concern. It should just prompt questions and conversations with school health staff and with the community, ensuring the population is being properly vaccinated.
How long have we had this data? When did it go public? Continue reading