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Wyoming students exempt from vaccines down in 2013

Aug 12, 2014 - By Aerin Curtis, McClatchy Newspapers

The numbers of students who take the necessary vaccinations for public schools went up in 2013.

But the figures for students who aren't vaccinated either for religious or medical reasons can change from year to year, data from the Wyoming Department of Health show.

"Our vaccination rates across the state are quite good," said Kim Deti with the health agency. "By the time they start kindergarten, we're up to 97 percent. The vast majority of our children are getting their vaccinations before they start school."

In 2013, only about 366 students in public and some private schools didn't get vaccinated, down from 458 the year before. Home-schooled students aren't included.

Of those who weren't vaccinated in 2013, 19 were for medical reasons and 347 were for religious ones.

"The number of folks who medically shouldn't have them is low -- it's pretty specific conditions," Deti said. "There are not many children who might have a specific allergy that would put them in that position, or (who are) immunocompromised.

"It's pretty rare because (the shots are) pretty safe for the vast majority of the population."

Students who are "immunocompromised" have immune systems that cannot deal with the effects of the shots.

The health department specifically looks at vaccination rates for students in kindergarten and seventh grade.

According to the data for the 2012-13 school year, kindergarten compliance ranged from about 97 percent to 98 percent.

Seventh-graders ranged from being 96.5 percent compliant to 98.5 percent.

Both groups had the lowest percentages of students taking the varicella, or chickenpox, vaccine.

"Children who are vaccinated are better protected against diseases and are less likely to spread those diseases to other folks," Deti said.

The students who don't get vaccinations, regardless of reason, are tracked in case a school has an outbreak of a disease like pertussis (whooping cough), for which students could be vaccinated, she said.

In those cases, unvaccinated students might have to be kept away.

Though it has been several years since the state has had a case of measles, the number of pertussis cases recently has gone up, Deti said.

"There are some different explanations," she said. "Part of it is unvaccinated children or under-vaccinated children who maybe don't finish the series. And there are some questions (among some) about the formulation of the (vaccine)."

Mandatory school vaccines cover diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, Hepatitis B, polio, tetanus and diphtheria, according to the local school districts.

In Laramie County School District 1, students have 30 days from the start of school to provide proof of vaccinations or an exemption. After that, they are excluded from school, policy says.

Flexibility is granted if the student is in the middle of a course of vaccinations that takes more than the time window.

In 2010, the vaccine for chicken pox was added to the required vaccine list, Deti said.

That requirement came out close to the start of school and may be a reason there was an uptick in religious exemptions that year, she added.

In 2009, 294 students had such exemptions; in 2010, the number more than doubled to 708.

"It was unfortunate timing on that rule," Deti said.

The health department has documentation for students with medical exemptions to vaccines. But it does not follow up on requests for religious exemption.

To get that exemption, parents or guardians must sign a notarized statement that requests a student be excused from taking the vaccines.

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