A new school year is nearly upon us and families are racing to complete their back-to-school to-do lists. But how many will get the required vaccines with COVID-19 skepticism still so high?
Initial data suggests the vast majority will.
Schools in Wyoming don’t require COVID-19 vaccines, but the inoculations are encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, years-old requirements range from vaccines against hepatitis B to measles to polio.
At Fremont County School District 25, K-12 students last year averaged a 97% vaccination rate, according to special services director Dallas Myers. While some practice their right to get a waiver, he said they are in the minority.
Head nurse Janet Farmer with Laramie County School District 1 heard from a Wyoming Department of Health employee that the use of vaccination waivers was down, she said. The health department has not confirmed that yet. Families in Farmer’s district have until Sept. 22 to submit health-officer-approved waivers, she added.
Some school kids are particularly vulnerable to illnesses because of health conditions like recovering from cancer, Farmer added, and others getting vaccines helps keep them healthy.
“We always have people who are very immune compromised,” she said. “If we have that herd immunity that’s strong, we’re in a much better position for all those students.”
The latest data from the 2021-22 school year shows that more than 92% of Wyoming kindergarteners had gotten the required vaccinations.
“The big takeaway is that the vast majority of Wyoming’s school children continue to receive the required vaccines by the time they enter school,” Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti stated in an email.
“At the same time, there have been small dips in the coverage percentages and some increases in exemption numbers,” she added, referring to the data ending in 2022. “That was starting to be a concern across the country about decreasing rates before the pandemic, and then the pandemic likely had some additional effects.”
Vaccine skepticism is “not unexpected,” Deti stated, but the health department urges families to utilize both the required and suggested vaccines at this time.
Federal funds also bolstered a Wyoming-specific campaign urging residents to consider vaccination. Based on an archival news clip about a Basin man who died from tetanus after shaving, Deti said, the commercial “takes a lighter approach to reminding residents of the successes vaccines have had over time.”
“One reason affecting vaccination rates is likely that younger generations are not familiar with many of the diseases vaccines can prevent,” Deti stated. “These diseases may not seem like real threats today.”
The mandatory vaccine with the lowest uptake in Wyoming, according to kindergartener records, was one for tetanus and diphtheria. About 92.5% of the schoolkids had that vaccine versus 94.6% who were vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Students can be exempted from vaccine requirements for religious and medical reasons. The latter is “very rare,” Deti stated.
The health department website cites state code allowing for the exceptions, but adds with emphasis, “The law does not allow parents/guardians to request a waiver simply because of inconvenience … Wyoming statute does NOT allow for the authorization of waiver requests based on philosophical beliefs. Schools should maintain an up-to-date list of students with waiver, so they may be excluded during a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak as determined by the State Health Officer o[r] a County Health Officer.”
Statewide vaccine information from last year and this coming year’s school kids is not yet available, and Deti said she doesn’t know when it will be. It is required by the state for anyone attending school to provide “documentary proof of immunization” within the first 30 days of the school year.