The share of Oklahoma kindergartners up to date on all their vaccines rose slightly last year, but the percentage who were granted exemptions from at least one vaccine also increased, according to the latest survey’s preliminary results.

It was at least the third straight year that Oklahoma’s overall exemption rate has risen — a trend that has worried contagious disease experts. The overall exemption rate for all kindergarteners was 2.6%, Oklahoma Department of Heath reported. That compared with 2.2% in 2017-18 and 1.9% in 2016-17, according to federal data. In 2009-10, the Oklahoma kindergartner exemption rate was 1.1%.

The overall vaccination rate for kindergartners rose to 91.4%, up from 90.4% in the 2017-18 school year. Meanwhile, 89% of private school kindergartners were fully vaccinated, up from 84% in the 2017-18 school year.

The latest survey by the Health Department and Oklahoma Department of Education, released recently, included responses from 91% of public schools and 44% of private schools. A total of 131 schools didn’t respond to the voluntary survey.

Oklahoma requires kindergartners to be vaccinated for about a dozen diseases, including measles, chickenpox and polio. Parents can apply for exemptions on medical, religious or personal grounds. Medical exemptions usually are the smallest share of exemptions, with most parents opposing on personal or religious grounds.

In the Enid Public Schools district, Adams, Eisenhower, Hoover, Monroe and Taft elementary schools all reported 100% of kindergarteners last year were up to date on all vaccines. Garfield Elementary School reported 99.1% up to date, with 0.9% of kindergarteners having at least one exemption.

Coolidge Elementary School followed at 98.5% up to date, and 1.5% granted at least one exemption. Other totals, of kindergarteners up to date, and those with at least one exemption were: McKinley Elementary School, 97.8% and 2.2%; Prairie View Elementary School, 97% and 3%; and Hayes Elementary School, 95.7% and 4.3%.

Chisholm Elementary School reported 91.5% up to date and 1.2% with at least one exemption. Garber and Pleasant Vale elementary schools reported 100% up to date. Kremlin-Hillsdale reported 77.3% up to date and no exemptions. In Waukomis, 89.3% of kindergartners last year were up to date, and 10.7% were granted at least one exemption.

Covington-Douglas and Drummond did not respond.

The only private elementary school in Garfield County to report was St. Joseph’s Catholic School, which reported 100% up to date.

Public and private school exemptions went in opposite directions in the latest survey. The public school exemption rate was 2.6%, up from 2.1% in the 2017-18 school year. Private school exemptions fell to 4.7%, down from 6% in the previous school year. It’s not clear what led the decline in the private school exemption rate.

“Analysis of this data drives program activities to improve vaccination coverage in our state,” interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates said in a news release. “We know that vaccinations are among the most effective ways to protect against serious diseases.”

For the first time, the Health Department has published an online map of schools and counties and their vaccination and exemption rates. The latest survey results are preliminary, and will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for inclusion in its national report in October.

Laurence Burnsed, state epidemiologist, said public health officials use the survey results to work with schools and local health officials to identify trends and coverage levels.

“Following the recommended immunization schedule helps you protect your child against vaccine-preventable diseases,” Burned said. “These are diseases that can be potentially serious, even life-threatening.

Burnsed said Oklahoma has tracked closely with national medians for both vaccination coverage and exemptions.

“This data really kind of drives a better understanding. Overall, we have a good level of coverage, but we do have some room for improvement,” he said.

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Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth and investigative journalism on public-policy and quality-of-life issues facing the state.

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