Vaccination rate below 90 percent at 18 Corridor schools, audit shows

Medical and religious exemptions rose last school year

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Sara Neff, a nurse practitioner at Mercy Pediatric Clinic, describes schools as “one big petri dish of germs.”

“Vaccinations protect your child against unvaccinated children,” she said. “They’re so important.”

And while the vast majority of schools in Linn and Johnson counties had immunization rates above 90 percent during the 2015-2016 school year, according to public health data, there were still 18 schools where rates dipped below that mark, with some falling below 70 percent.

The Iowa Department of Public Health conducts annual audits of immunization records for students enrolled in licensed child care centers, as well as public, private and parochial schools. It calculates vaccination percentages by dividing the number of valid certificates of immunization by a school’s total enrollment.

Database: Immunization rates for schools near you

Click to see a database of immunization rates for more than 1,300 schools in Iowa.

Vaccination rates were not calculated for schools with fewer than 100 students.

The state requires students enrolled in school to be vaccinated against a variety of diseases, including tetanus, Polio, hepatitis B and measles, among others. Starting next year, students in the seventh and 12th grades must be vaccinated against meningitis.

“We know that vaccines work,” said Heather Meador, a nurse with Linn County Public Health. “Nothing has been studied as much as vaccines. We know that they’re safe and make a huge difference.”

The audit found that a handful of schools in the two counties had vaccination rates below 80 percent, including Cedar Valley Christian School (69.18 percent); Isaac Newton Christian Academy (78.85 percent); Marion Home School (67.83 percent); and Northwest Junior High School (48.33 percent).

Statewide, there are 27 schools with vaccination rates below 80 percent, with five schools at or below 50 percent.

The audit is a snapshot in time, and Meador said Linn County Public Health — which conducts the audits — works with area schools to remind students and parents that documentation or vaccinations are missing.

Students with a medical reason or religious conflict do not have to be vaccinated. A separate report shows that the number of medical and religious exemptions in Linn County have ticked up over the years, rising from 293 medical and 557 religious exemptions during the 2013-2014 school year to 305 and 744 during the 2015-2016 school year.

Meador pointed out the state of Iowa does not have a “philosophical” exemption for vaccinations, which would allow parents to not vaccinate children due to moral opposition. She added the number of religious exemptions is “concerning.”

“We want to keep kids healthy and we want to keep them in school,” she said.

Both Meador and Neff said if parents come in with concerns about vaccinations, they work with them to see where they are getting their information and whether the source is valid.

“Is it coming from Mayo (Clinic) or from Facebook?” Neff explained.

Vaccinations have eradicated diseases like polio in the U.S., she said, but the country is starting to see cases pop back up as families decide to not immunize their children.

“It’s more important with the increase of world traveling,” Neff continued. “People are coming and going and bringing disease.”

“In our office, we’ve set a policy that your child has to receive at least one vaccination a year, if they don’t they need to find a new provider,” she said.

Here is a look at schools in Linn and Johnson counties with a vaccination rate below 90 percent during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health:

Linn County

• All Saints School, 88.94 percent

• Cedar Valley Christian School, 69.18

• Cedar Rapids Home School, 80.71

• Hoover Elementary School, 89.5

• Isaac Newton Christian Academy, 78.85

• LaSalle Middle School, 89.8

• Lisbon High School, 81.9

• Marion Home School, 67.83

• Springville Secondary School, 88.13

• St. Joseph School, 84.83

Johnson County

• Alexander Elementary School, 82.84 percent

• Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School, 84.28

• Ernest Horn Elementary School, 84.69

• Horace Mann Elementary School, 85

• Lone Tree Junior-Senior High School, 87.2

• Mark Twain Elementary School, 89.27

• Northwest Junior High School, 48.33

• South East Junior High School, 86.07 

Need information about vaccinations? Here’s who to call:

Linn County Public Health — (319) 892-6000

Linn County Immunization Coalition — (319) 892-6061

Johnson County Public Health — (319) 356-6040

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