School-age Vermonters’ vaccination status and requirements as back-to-school season starts

When kids head back to school they need to have proof of vaccination or a signed exemption form with them.
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 9:08 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - When kids head back to school they need to have proof of vaccination or a signed exemption form with them.

This does not include COVID-19, but the routine vaccines for polio, MMR and hepatitis B to name a few.

The World Health Organization says millions of children worldwide have missed out on routine immunizations because the pandemic stopped them from regular doctors’ visits. In Vermont, the Health Department says the state is on track, but some kids are behind.

“We’ve got a population that tends to choose to vaccinate here. So we’re lucky that way,” said Dr. Greg Connolly of Lakeside Pediatrics in Burlington.

Connolly says at their office, most patients are caught up on routine vaccines they missed now that people are coming back to their in-person, scheduled visits.

The immunization director with the Department of Health, Monica Ogleby, agrees.

“We really didn’t see a notable dip. Certainly a little bit here and there, but over the following year, we saw a tremendous amount of catch-up,” said Ogleby.

Ogleby says this is because a vast majority of children in Vermont have pediatric care, unlike some other states.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 95.1% of K-12 students were up to date on required vaccines. Ogleby says that while the data is still coming out for the last school year, the percentage is similar.

But not every child heads to school with every shot required. In the 2019-2020 school year, data from the Department of Health shows that 1.7% of Vermont K-12 students were admitted to school provisionally, meaning they weren’t up to date on their vaccines and didn’t have a signed exemption.

When this happens, Ogleby says it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure the child gets the vaccinations they need.

“Sometimes they need a little bit of help or support or assistance from our program just to review the statute and review what that grace period looks like for families and to troubleshoot a few particular situations,” said Ogleby.

When talking to patients who might be hesitant to get some of these routine vaccines, Connolly says it’s all about building trust.

“The answer is not to force your opinion on somebody. It’s really to figure out why they’re hesitant. gauge how willing they are to talk about it and figure out what their worries are if they’re willing to share it with you,” Connolly said.

The Health Department says the immunization data for last school year will be out any day now and it will look a little different.

Ogleby says historically they reported data at a school level down to the decimal point. Now, the Health Department is being mindful of reporting standards and HIPAA and will show schools’ vaccination rates as greater than 90% instead of the exact decimal.

The Health Department says they do not have the data for vaccinations for this upcoming school year because there is a six-month grace period for parents to get their kids immunized.

One vaccine that is not on the list of required immunizations is for COVID-19, even though children aged 5-11 have been cleared to receive the vaccine since May.

Dr. Connolly says routine childhood immunizations have been around longer and have more trust among parents. But he emphasizes that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and do not produce the virus in your body, just the protein on the surface for your immune system to recognize and create antibodies against.

He says that in the 5-to-11-year-old age group there are hardly any reactions to it because the dosage is lower.

“Only 15% of those kids have the full series completed which is pretty poor. And certainly, I understand parents’ hesitancy toward the vaccines, but really vaccines this one included like all vaccines are the most important preventive health measure that we have in medicine,” said Connolly.

The Department of Health encourages parents to get their children vaccinated at their pediatrician, a pharmacy or a walk-in clinic.

Right now, the 5-to-11-year-old age group is the smallest percentage of fully vaccinated Vermonters. but the Health Department’s dashboard doesn’t show the 6-months-to-5-year-old category.