The new school year starts next week for most students in our region and this year marks the first time parents cannot claim a philosophical exemption to opt out of immunizations for their school-age children.
The exemption was officially eliminated July 1 this year, but Vermont health officials say they saw changes even beforehand in last year's immunization rates, as parents and the health department prepared to implement the change.
Both the philosophical and religious exemptions fall under the nonmedical category, and although the state says it saw a slight increase in religious exemptions last year, the overall number fell from 5.9 percent to 5.5 percent.
"In the 2015-2016 school year, 90 percent of all children entering kindergarten had received all the required vaccines and that was up from 86 percent two years ago, so we are seeing an increase in the percentage. And when we look at all children in kindergarten through 12th grade, that's in public and independent schools, over 93 percent were fully immunized with what they had. So we're pleased with the progress that we're making," said Dr. Christine Finley of the Vermont Department of Health.
Finley says data for this new school year won't be available until all Vermont schools report their data to the state by Jan. 1, 2017. But she says the higher the immunization rate, the better protected the community will be, which she says is critically important to those children and adults who cannot be immunized because they have compromised immune systems, sometimes due to chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
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