Island vaccination rates lag

This chart shows the percentage of kindergarteners who are exempt at each Island school compared to the state average. — Chart by Parker Banks

In a press release issued Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) said the infected child diagnosed at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital last week was the second confirmed case in Massachusetts this year.

“A widespread outbreak of measles in Massachusetts is unlikely, largely due to the fact that over 95 percent of students in Massachusetts have already been vaccinated against the illness,” Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of Public Health, said in a press release.

However, that percentage does not hold true for Martha’s Vineyard.

Data collected from school immunization surveys for the 2013–14 school year indicate higher rates of vaccine exemptions and lower rates of vaccination coverage, including MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination coverage, on Martha’s Vineyard compared with the rest of the state, DPH said.

Massachusetts law requires vaccinations against 14 communicable diseases, including the MMR vaccine, as a condition of enrollment in public schools. In addition to medical exemptions, Massachusetts allows exemptions on religious grounds.

Statewide, 95 percent of kindergarteners are reported as having received two doses of MMR vaccine, while on Martha’s Vineyard (Dukes County), 84 percent of kindergarteners are reported as having received 2 doses of MMR vaccine, according to DPH.

Those who are susceptible to measles (including the unvaccinated) who do not receive a dose of vaccine within 72 hours must be excluded from public activities, including school or work, for 21 days after an exposure, DPH said.

School nurses are responsible for compiling vaccination data. Data provided to The Times by school nurses in 2014 revealed that the Chilmark School, Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, and West Tisbury School had the highest number of students exempt from vaccinations. However, students who are exempt are not necessarily unvaccinated altogether, according to health officials. Many of these students lack only one or two immunizations.

The chart below provides exemption percentages for kindergarteners in Island schools, obtained from DPH 2013–14 school immunization surveys. Chilmark School and Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School reported kindergarten classes of fewer than 30 students, so those figures were not included in the surveys. Data for those schools are approximate, and is based on information provided by the school nurse and previous figures.

Read a related measles story here, and an interview with Island doctors here.