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State health officials put school immunization rates online

Shamane Mills

Wisconsin Public Radio

Wisconsin health officials have published school immunization data online using an interactive map for the first time. The new map shows both public and private schools — giving anyone the ability to look up the rates at which students in specific schools and districts are being immunized.

According to Wisconsin state law, students are required to get certain shots to attend school. Each year, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services publishes the required immunizations for that school year. The vaccinations for this year include: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, hepatitis B, varicella, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

"The purpose behind the school immunization laws is to ensure healthy, safe community for all children, and these maps and the data help provide important information to that end so that parents, schools and health care providers are aware of the immunizations rates in schools," said Wisconsin Immunization Program Manager Stephanie Schauer.

Wisconsin allows exemptions for medical, religious and personal convictions. Waivers for medical and religious reasons have been relatively stable, amounting to less than half a percent, said Schauer. However, personal conviction waivers have risen over the years. In 2016, they were 4.2 percent.

"Those are overall state numbers," said Schauer. "When you look at individual schools, the data may fluctuate more, and some schools may have higher levels and some may have lower levels. It's important that events like the measles outbreak in Minnesota have shown that when immunization rates decrease even in a particular school, that outbreaks can happen."

This spring, Minnesota had its worst measles outbreak in decades. That state had 65 confirmed measles cases as of May. No deaths were reported, but there were hospitalizations.

Health officials use the term "herd immunity" to refer to how much of the community is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. For measles, the vaccination threshold is high because it's so contagious. 

Schauer said the website is intended to educate, not shame.

"We’re not pointing fingers at any one parent. But it is important to protect the health of the community," Schauer said. "There are various reasons why children may be under vaccinated. And it gives an opportunity, perhaps, for the school and health care providers to work more closely to get those children vaccinated."

If parents are unsure if their child is up to date on their shots, Schauer said they can contact their doctor or look on the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more WPR news on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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