The percentage of Colorado students getting required childhood vaccinations inched up slightly for most shots in 2017-18 according to new school-by-school immunization data released by the state health department last week.
Statewide, immunization rates were 93 percent to 95 percent for five of six vaccinations required for school-aged students. But rates varied widely by school, with a small number having immunization rates of 50 percent or less.
The findings come from a state database showing how many kids get — or skip — vaccinations in the state’s schools, preschools, and child care programs. The state launched the database in 2017, expanding on an earlier Chalkbeat effort to track school immunization and exemption rates.
Colorado has long had relatively low vaccination rates — and lenient rules allowing parents to opt their children out of required shots — compared with many other states. But a 2014 state law required schools to reveal immunization and exemption rates upon request, creating a new level of transparency.
Then in 2015, the State Board of Health toughened the rules for non-medical exemptions, which include personal belief and religious exemptions, requiring parents to submit exemption forms every year instead of potentially just once during their child’s schooling.
Public health advocates say giving parents access to immunization data helps them gauge the risk of communicable disease outbreaks and make informed choices about where to send their children for school or child care. Herd immunity — protection from disease outbreaks gained when a large majority of a population is vaccinated — usually requires immunization rates of 90 percent to 95 percent.
Statewide vaccination rates fell slightly in 2017-18 for only one shot: DTaP, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Even with the tiny decline, more than 94 percent of Colorado students received the vaccination last year.
The state’s 2017-18 database shows immunization and exemption rates by school, district, county, and child care program, as well as for the state overall. The full data set will be available for download July 2.
Here are some highlights:
- Two small rural school districts, Moffat and Hinsdale County, have the highest exemption rates in the state, about 16 percent in Hinsdale and about 33 percent in Moffat.
- In contrast, Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, had an exemption rate of less than 1 percent for most shots.
- Boulder Valley, one of the Front Range districts with the lowest immunization rates in recent years, posted exemption rates of 4 percent to 6 percent depending on the shot.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.