A little more than a third of Colorado school districts were at, mumps, or rubella outbreak last year, due to low immunization rates, but new state data shows overall MMR vaccination rates are somewhat improving.
School districts tell CBS News Colorado the key to improving those rates boils down to building relationships with students' families.
"It's about educating the family," says school nurse Megan Moyer with Kids First Health Care, a company that is contracted by the Adams 14 School District to help with student healthcare during school hours.
"Kind of explore a little bit about why they might be hesitant, and we do try and hook them up with a pediatrician if they don't have one," Moyer continued. "We have a lot of new immigrants into our community at this time and making sure they have a provider, and then we communicate with the provider, as well, in helping them maybe get on a vaccination plan if maybe they've fallen a little bit behind."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools need to have at least 95% of students immunized with the MMR vaccine to have a lower outbreak risk, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment says MMR coverage among kindergartners is the lowest since the 2017-2018 school year at 86.8%.
State data also shows some school districts in the state have MMR immunization rates among K-12 schools as low as 59.4%.
This month, there was a measles outbreak in Philadelphia, despite 93% of children in the city being vaccinated.
"While vaccines protect individual students, vaccination rates in some areas in Colorado are too low to protect communities from outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as measles and polio," says a spokesperson for the CDPHE. "Colorado's goal for all school-required vaccines is 95% coverage."
To see the rates in your child's school or school district, click here.
"We can protect those that aren't able to get vaccinated yet, or have compromised systems such as the elderly, newborns," Moyer said.
In Cherry Creek Schools, rates have stayed above the 95% threshold over recent years, according to state data.
But Michelle Weinraub, the district's chief health officer, says the pandemic created challenges.
"Our nurses' job is not to parent the children, that's what parents do, but it is to educate and make sure that they have the health access available and to talk to them about their plans, whatever they are, whether their plan is, to choose exemption or their plan is to have their child fully immunized or even fully immunized at a different pace, kind of like a catch-up plan," she said. "We've obviously seen some of that since the Covid 19 pandemic because it's very hard to get immunized when you're on a telehealth appointment."
Weinraub says the sudden cancellation of an important vaccination clinic hosted by the now-dissolved 365 Health last fall also created an obstacle to help more students get immunized.
Attempts to reach someone from the 365 Health organization were unsuccessful, but the CDPHE provided the following information about what happened and the next steps:
- From February 2021 to May 2023, they held more than 700 clinics and gave more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Prior to their dissolution in 2023, 365Health was briefly enrolled in the Vaccines for Children program. The Colorado Immunization Information System shows they administered 23 doses of MMR vaccine during this brief enrollment period.
- 365Health's enrollment in the Vaccines for Children program was also part of a more than $2 million contract for the COVID-19 Health Equity and Immunization Funding Opportunity (RFA #40624). 365Health agreed to host 60 vaccine clinics per month from July 2023 to June 2024, as well as provide COVID-19 vaccine information and education focusing on disproportionately impacted populations through the end of June 2024. The contract was terminated Sept. 1, 2023 and all work stopped.
- While 365Health's work as part of the COVID-19 Health Equity and Immunization Funding Opportunity (RFA #40624) has ended, immunization grant funding to host vaccine clinics and provide vaccine education and outreach has been extended to June 30, 2025 and CDPHE is accepting applications from eligible organizations until January 31, 2024.
The CDPHE also says it has a number of campaigns and programs in both English and Spanish to help increase rates.
"Routinely, we send text messages and emails in English and Spanish to parents and guardians of children 0-18 years whose records in the Colorado Immunization Information System show they may be overdue on routine vaccines," a spokesperson for CDPHE said. "CDPHE is also implementing a public health detailing program designed to help healthcare providers improve vaccination coverage among their pediatric patients, with a specific focus on kindergarten-aged children."
In the meantime, Weinraub's team has been working hard to connect families to doctors so they can make the right decisions for their children.
"What it does is it can help prevent death. We know that measles can cause death," Weinraub said.
The Arapahoe County Health Department says, "decades of research tells us that vaccines are an easy, accessible and, above all else, safe way to drastically reduce the spread of many preventable contagious diseases."
For information on how to register for immunizations at Arapahoe County's health clinics, click here, or call 303-734-5445 for same- or next-day appointments. The county also offers monthly Shots for Tots and Teens clinics at Martin Luther King, Jr., Library in Aurora, where people can get recommended vaccines.
Back in Adams 14, nurses like Moyer are also working to increase immunization rates, which are currently at 96.3%, according to Moyer.
She says continuing to build trust with students and parents will help ensure their rates don't dip.
"We understand vaccine hesitancy is out there, but it's all about building relationships with the families," Moyer said. "We use interpreters when needed... to get to the place where maybe they could be comfortable asking us questions and helping them break down some of the barriers."
MMR vaccines are required by law for students to attend public school.
Asked about its enforcement of vaccination requirements, a CDPHE spokesperson said, "CDPHE supports school districts and childcare centers statewide in immunization reporting. This includes ongoing education and training opportunities on the requirements to report aggregate immunization and exemption data to CDPHE annually. We also offer training and support on the process of completing and submitting nonmedical exemptions."
For families looking to track their children's vaccinations, and make sure they're up to date, the CDPHE provided the following information:
- COVaxRecords.org directs people on how to request vaccination records for their children.
- COVaxRates.org makes it easy for people to look up vaccination and exemption rates for schools and childcare facilities in Colorado so they can make the best decision for their children.
- ChildVaccineCO.org provides more information on routine vaccinations, as well as where to find a provider who offers low- or no-cost vaccines.
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