1 in 4 Chilmark School kindergartners received vaccine exemption

Kindergarten immunization exemption rates at the Chilmark School and MVPCS are in the state's top 10.

The Chilmark School. -Stacey Rupolo

In averages of state statistics from the past three years, several Vineyard elementary schools have some of Massachusetts’ highest rates of kindergartners exempt from at least one immunization. 

According to data compiled by the Boston Globe, the Chilmark School has the state’s second-highest rate. About 23 percent of kindergartners at the up-Island school received exemptions for at least one vaccine. 

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) ranked seventh statewide, at 12.90 percent. The Edgartown School (rank 21) and West Tisbury School (rank 28) showed percentages of 9.20 percent and 7.90 percent respectively.

Tisbury School and Oak Bluffs Elementary School were on the lower end of kindergarten exemption rates, at 3.10 percent and 2.20 percent respectively.

The state average is around 1 percent. In 2022–23, Massachusetts approved 813 religious exemptions for kindergartners across the state, nearly three times the rate of 30 years ago.

Massachusetts requires kindergarten through grade 12 students to have received five doses of DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine, four of the polio vaccine, two of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, three of the hepatitis B vaccine, and two of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.

David T. Caron Jr., vice president of diagnostic and therapeutic services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, says herd immunity of about 90 percent is needed to prevent the spread of various diseases in a population.

In 2022–23, 90.9 percent of Dukes County kindergartners had received all the required doses of each required vaccine. Exemption statistics by vaccine from 2022–23 were only available for the Edgartown School and Oak Bluffs Elementary School. Having all doses of varicella vaccine was the rarest among Dukes kindergartners, at 92.0 percent. Having all polio and hepatitis B series was the most common, at 94.3 percent.

In the past year, religious exemptions proportionally dominated the Island’s kindergartner exemptions, and put its total exemption share far ahead of other counties. Dukes County leads the state categories in total exemptions and religious exemptions, at 6.3 percent for each. The next highest exemptions county is Franklin, at 4.0 percent total and 3.8 percent religious.

Dukes also led the state in vaccination exemptions in the 2015–16 school year.

For religious exemptions, Massachusetts requires a letter request from a parent, guardian, or individual, stating that a vaccine conflicts with an individual’s sincerely held religious belief.

MVPCS Director Peter Steedman says that these religious exemptions are processed straightforwardly. “The law allows families to have religious exemptions. So when they provide [them], we don’t pry, don’t ask why. It’s something we have to respect.”

For medical exemptions, Massachusetts requires a doctor’s documentation of contraindication — “the reason why an individual cannot medically receive the vaccine.”

While Chilmark School Principal Susan Stevens did not comment on factors behind exemptions, she does say many parents are more comfortable not giving their children all of their vaccines at once. 

“Generally, a larger portion of the population prefers to give [immunizations] spaced out over time, and not all at birth,” Principal Stevens said. “To them it’s more about, ‘I’ll give [children] all the vaccines, but not all to them when they’re younger … [It’s] just that they give them three or four when they’re 6 years old, and eventually they have them all.”

Though Dukes County has relatively high 2022–23 exemption rates, its rate of kindergartners failing school immunization requirements was relatively low — 2.8 percent, compared with the state’s 4.1 percent county average. This statistic measures kindergartners without all required doses and without an exemption.

Work is ongoing to address state public school immunizations, says Caron. He notes the work of the M.V. Vaccine Task Force, an effort begun by the hospital. “One of our goals this year is to stimulate conversation with healthcare leaders and our school system to develop standards around exemptions,” says Caron.

Massachusetts is also increasing attention toward school immunization statistics, says Caron: “We are encouraged that the state of Massachusetts has opened a new school immunization survey in September 2023, and will close it by the end of January 2024. This will help provide more up-to-date statistics so we can better address gaps in our efforts.


  1. While some people claim religious exemption, they are often actually claiming personal-belief exemptions and not true religious exemptions.

    There are only a few religions with an absolute objection to vaccines and they include churches that rely on faith healing including small Christian churches such as Church of the First Born, End Time Ministries, Faith Assembly, Faith Tabernacle, and First Century Gospel Church.
    The First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Scientist) believes in healing through prayer and that vaccines aren’t necessary.

    There are more groups within other religions who are opposed to getting their kids and themselves vaccinated, which helps explain some of the outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and these religious groups include some Amish, some Dutch Reformed churches and some Muslim fundamentalists. There is no absolute objection to vaccines within these faith traditions.

    Back to MV I could accept if someone is practicing a religion above, but this article doesn’t paint that picture as we hear kids get some and not others. We will wait for that measles outbreak to occur. Glad my kids got theirs so they can go to school when the others are excluded.

  2. These supposed religious exemptions are a convenient way for the science deniers among us to avoid having their children immunized. I seriously doubt the bulk of them are legit. This island has a disproportionate number of woonatics who adhere to a lot of pseudoscientific nonsense. They will take medical advice from yoga instructor, but refuse to see a doctor. They think that utter nonsense like healing crystals, sound baths, and essential oils are valid treatments for disease and ailments. Those are basically a scam and prey on the gullible.
    Refusing to vaccinate a kid is child endangerment, in my opinion. It also endangers other children in the same school. I’m old enough to remember the polio outbreak of the 50s. It was eradicated through a vaccine. Back then, people actually trusted doctors.

    • Jim, just curious if you have read the results of the long term safety tests on any of the shots for which you seem to be so enamored…

      • The first covid vaccine was made in late 2020. People began getting them in 2021. Children and babies, later still. It’s now 2023, and you want to know who has studied long term effects of this vaccine? Hello? Other vaccines, like polio, had no long term studies of effects when many of us were given them, myself included, having also been new at the time. Why do you object to unnecessary deaths from preventable diseases when for most people, not all, there are vaccines that can prevent or lessen serious illness from these diseases?

        • I’m not a physician but I believe I read the medical science for the MRNA vaccine was developed well before the Covid vaccine, proven safe, and was adapted for this particular pathogen. It would be like buying a CD by a particular band- they didn’t invent the technology, just recorded their music on an existing platform (Yes, that shows my age!). If there is contrary information I’m open to discussing it, but I’m not aware of it yet.

          • Hi Julian,
            I would suggest that you spend some time reading and watching presentations on The Daily Clout, which is Naomi Wolf’s website. Of particular interest to you would be her team’s analysis of the Pfizer document dump (about the safety and effectiveness of the mRNA transfections. It’s not correct to call them vaccines. The CDC and the FDA changed the definition of “vaccine” before the roll out of the transfections, which is the correct term. Wolf’s team is made up of researchers and virologists, many of them physicians. This document dump, you might know, was forced by the courts. Pfizer and the US government argued in court that the data (particularly the safety testing data) should be under seal for 50+ years before public release. The court ruled otherwise. Your breath will be taken away, and never again will you say “safe” or “effective” when speaking about the mRNA transfections.

  3. Unfortuneatly the idiots who are against all vaccines, are also against mask-wearing and other proven ways to curtain viruses.

    I had a child medically unable to complete the DPT series. In high school, he contracted whooping cough– because of the idiot woo-woo-ers who thought they were so much smarter than actual science and did not vaccinate their healthy children so that the less healthy kids who could not tolerate the vaccines were protected, too. There people are not intelligent. They are selfish pigs. In fact, anti-vaxers like RFK Jr are a menace to society. And they are incredibly insane, especially the “educated” ones.

    • Wear your mask and get your shot but please stop telling people what’s best for them. It’s a cold. Get over it. The “vaccine” does not prevent you from getting covid or from transmitting it. Not all people who are against this vaccine are against all vaccines. Masks don’t prevent you from getting covid nor do they prevent you from transmitting it. Facts. And that’s not being selfish just not being a sheep.

      • You have a very strange definition of the word “facts”.
        Covid 19 is not a “cold”. People died from it. Over a half million right here in the US, in fact. Ask the people who are dealing with long term issues from having covid if it’s a cold.
        I won’t even address some of the other nonsense you wrote. Not worth the time or effort.

        • Jim, thanks for your response. I should have prefaced that this new strain is mild and no more dangerous than the standard cold as per the CDC. And my definition of a vaccine is one that actually works where you don’t need multiple shots with results varying from person to person. WHO has multiple studies that show this. Those are the facts that I’m referring to. Anyway, stay healthy and only wish you the best sir. And for everyone else too.

        • Long haul Covid is more a symptom of obesity and inflammation than of the infection itself. Even the CDC recognizes that. The moral of the story? Staten, exercise and eat an anti-inflammatory diet and your risk of dying from Covid are slim to none. It’s not to say than thin healthy people haven’t died of it. But, they are 1/10 as likely to die of Covid as people who are overweight. Again, not something I’m making up but something the CDC has acknowledged. For those who want the ALL the facts read everything the CDC has to say about it. And don’t just pick and choose the statements that suits you. And also, people have the option of wearing masks, even layers of masks, and getting every new vaccine that comes along and all the booster Ad infinitum, if that makes them feel safe! We’re lucky this is a free country.

      • “The “vaccine” does not prevent you from getting covid or from transmitting it.” It only reduces the chances by 90+%.
        “Masks don’t prevent you from getting covid nor do they prevent you from transmitting it”, they only reduce the chances by 90+% . Facts.
        Masks do not prevent surgeons from transmitting diseases. Would you want your kid’s brain surgeon to go maskless?
        Is your kid’s brain surgeon a sheep?

      • Please show us your medical credentials. Next time you’re at the dentist, please insist him/her to remove their mask since you don’t believe it stops germ transmission.

      • When I got covid I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck. I was OK because I’m relatively healthy, but I remember thinking, “I would hate to be starting with a 10-yard penalty on this one, i.e. having a pre-existing condition that already had my system weakened.”

    • I grew up in the same boat. I am extremely allergic to the pertussis vaccine! Do to my reaction I became epileptic (I was 1 in 30k babies that had that reaction from ‘81-‘85). When there is a pertussis outbreak, I can not leave my house. I was lucky growing up because the majority of people were pro-vaccine back then. I have received every other vaccine needed to attend public schools, just no boosters. And I have continued to get all the available vaccines. But, I never received the chickenpox vaccine because I was in high school when it became available.

      ( fyi: the pertussis vaccine is mixed with the tetanus vaccine. You always have to ask now)

    • Agree with your stance, but calling those who disagree “idiots” and “selfish pigs” seems counterproductive.

      • Mike, it’s not counterproductive to call it what it is. These people “disagree” with reality and facts. It’s counterproductive to pretend it’s worthwhile to try
        convincing people who still insist Covid is a cold. You cannot fix stupid, selfish, and stubborn, but it’s important to point it out when it’s in public, denying a reality about public health measures. Why show patience and respect to or about fools? After 3 years of this? Why suffer fools gladly? That’s not something I do.

        There were plenty of unvaccinated, dying covid patients who lived just long enough to deeply regret their foolish “disagreement” with reality, not to mention those who loved them and mourned their passing.

        A good example of doing for others is getting the chicken pox vaccine. It’s a relatively mild disease- when my kids were little we purposely exposed them to a child with chicken pox to get it over with, because it’s a disease dangerous to a pregnant woman’s fetus and to older people. Now there’s a vaccine available to protect these others, even though for most kids, chicken pox is not serious.

    • Jackie these are your words: “They are selfish pigs. In fact, anti-vaxers like RFK Jr are a menace to society.” Could you explain why you oppose the mRNA shots and childhood shots being held to the same standard of safety testing as Viagra?

      • Unlike what apparently interests you, I have no reason to look into Viagra testing, so I don’t know about the safety standards you refer to.

        • The mRNA shots and the childhood shots are not held to the same standards of safety testing as the common drugs on the market. You seem to me a very thorough person in your inquiry into things. This is one area you would find of interest.

      • I listened to an interview with RFK Jr. where he said he’s vaccinated and his children are vaccinated so he’s not against the principle of vaccination. He is advocating for vaccines to undergo the same degree of rigorous testing as other FDA-approved medications. Has he made contradictory statements publicly? Otherwise, he’d be mischaracterized by being called anti-vax. I don’t have a dog in this fight and don’t comment to try to poke bears- I just am curious about this one, as it seems that either he’s a hypocrite or the media is misrepresenting him. Neither is good.

        • “There’s no vaccine that’s safe and effective”.~RFK, Jr. July, 2023

          Come on, Julian. Look at any of the links I provided below, or google “RFK JR and vaccines”, and you’ll see, from all sorts of news sources giving a full picture, his views on vaccines are lunatic, paranoid, conspiracy theory, and racist and antisemitic. You listened to one interview, by a guy who wants to be president and is now backtracking, and you believe he’s not antivax??? Look at his record, over years and years. People are now ignoring the antivax damage he’s done over many years, convincing selfish, ignorant fools not to vaccinate their children— like those dishonest dopes in Chilmark claiming religious exemptions. Not okay.

    • A lot of name calling here. Its especially concerning considering youre commenting about other peoples children. I think its time Jackie gets a timeout from comments. Disgusting

      • Oh, okay. Did you want more comment space for more crackpot, false Covid and vaccine info? What would YOU like to call selfish, ignorant parents of perfectly healthy but unvaxed children? It’s not about the children. It’s their parents. Yes, it’s disgusting to claim false religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations.

      • I am well educated enough to to have all the Covid shots, and the latest Flue and shingles vaccines.
        How well educated are you?
        Have your doctors had enough education to be vaccinated?

        • So tell me exactly how educated do you have to be to have all the Covid shots, and the latest flu and shingles vaccines?

          • Perhaps educated enough to recognize that ignorant antivaxers are often too cowardly to post their lunacy under their real name. Why is that, do you think?

    • Chilmark is one of the wealthiest most educated communities in the United States. And one out of every for child in the school system is unvaccinated. So it dis proves your premise that educated people vaccinate their children.

  4. Elon Musk is pretty smart but is not a fan of vaccines. I believe vaccines are good but didnt believe in the Covid one and the only reason I took it was because I wanted to travel overseas. Lots of people said it didnt work or they got more sick. People should be free to choose.. Uh oh the herd immunity folks will object but herd immunity is not attained if the vaccine is less than 85 percent effective.

      • Hess, when a large majority of people believe in something, I usually go the opposite direction for the truth. I have found that to be most helpful in my 79 years. Where do you go for truth? CNN, Universities, MSNBC, NYTIMES, the White House, Cabinet Secretaries. Please tell us–your instincts?

    • Elon Musk is a fan of Nazis. That’s some role model for not being a fan of vaccines. He and the crackpot RFK jr make a good pair of anti vax spokespeople.

  5. Not everyone says YES to all vaccines or NO to all vaccines. It would be wonderful if we could stop speaking about others with such derogatory and sweeping generalizations. Some parents prefer to space out vaccines so it won’t be as much of a burden on their child’s immune system, particularly if autoimmune issues run in the family. Do you think that a newborn really needs the Hep B vaccine on the first day of their life? All mothers are routinely tested for Hep B during pregnancy and Hepatitis B is contracted through STDs or IV drug use, presumably something a newborn should not yet have to be concerned about. The vaccine for Hep B contains 250 micrograms of aluminum, 16 times what the FDA itself claims is a tolerable level for newborns. I say this to point out the overly aggressive nature of the CDC schedule, centered upon efficiency.

    I’m certain that the religious exemption is also used for personal beliefs and it isn’t just “science deniers” but also diligent parents who simply want to skip or delay even just one vaccine and the religious exemption is their only option to do so. Perhaps a parent is more concerned about the risk of epilepsy than they are of chicken pox…a relatively mild childhood illness.

    As Massachusetts moves towards removing the religious exemption, they simultaneously proposed a bill seeking to add MORE shots to the mandatory schedule (HPV and Hep A). Removing the religious exemption means parents would no longer have any choice in skipping or delaying even one vaccine for any reason and that they would be subjected to any new vaccines that would be added to the schedule and this is something ALL parents should be concerned about… I understand the concerns regarding public health but think this issue is much more complex than simply attacking one another with blanket statements.

    The article also noted the sharp rise in exemptions over the past 30 years. Could that be in proportion to the sharp rise in shots added to the mandatory schedule? Directly following the removal of liability from pharmaceutical companies regarding vaccine injury?

    And by the way, RFK is not “anti-vax”, he simply points out the risks associated with them and like it or not, there are risks. Science is evolving – it’s okay to admit that we might not have is all figured out.

    • RFK Jr caused a number of children to die in Tonga when he convinced the government to forgo a vaccine. He thinks vaccines cause autism, which is ridiculous. He is an imbecile, and even his family takes a dim view of his wacko ideas.

      • Why are you so sure vaccines can’t contribute to the expression of autism? You know what definitely does contribute to the increase in autism? Increasing exposure to environmental toxins…like heavy metals.

        • Why am I so sure? Because I base what I say on actual science and not some crackpot idea based on nonsense.
          No vaccines contain heavy metals in a concentration anywhere near harmful levels. Some use a variant of mercury called thimerosal. It’s a mercury-based preservative that has been used for decades in the United States in multi-dose vials (vials containing more than one dose) of medicines and vaccines. There is no evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.
          Research does not show any link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Many well conducted studies have concluded that thimerosal in vaccines does not contribute to the development of autism. Even after thimerosal was removed from almost all childhood vaccines, autism rates continued to increase, which is the opposite of what would be expected if thimerosal caused autism.

    • Hi Jesse, nice to see some calm and reasonable words on the page. To add to your comment about RFK Jr.: He is asking for something that all of us should be demanding, and that would be holding mRNA shots and all the childhood shots to the same standard of safety testing as Viagra. And none is.

  6. Give an antivaxer an opportunity to sound reasonable, and they start out great… until the misinformation and disinformation start. Many antivaxers claim not to be antivax, including the lunatic, RFK, Jr. It is a lie to state that RFK Jr is not antivax, even though he claims this lie himself.







    Some people fall for the conspiracy theories and lies, and go on to spread them. Most people don’t. When most people have a medical concern, they discuss it with a legitimate, reputable, medical professional– not with a chiropractor, not with a fit camp instructor, not with their friend who knew someone they heard had a bad reaction to a vaccine. Where do antivaxers get most of their material? Off the internet. They call it “doing their own research”. It’s like going on Islanders Talk to ask what to do for a tick bite. What’s worse than calling an idiot a derogatory name? Allowing said idiot to feed vulnerable people the antivax lies that help spread disease and death.



    Covid hospitializations and deaths are increasing. It’s a serious threat to the immune compromised and elderly. But there are still people calling it “a cold”. You can’t fix stubborn, stupid, and selfish. It’s pointless to try.

    • Jackie you hold science and doctors in such high regard. I was in a hospital a couple of years ago and there was a sign that says. Anyone can get AIDS. I asked one Doctor ”is this true?’ and he said Yes. That is the biggest bunch of nonsense I have ever heard and that was peddled for years and still is because the the woke government and other institutions do not want to offend anyone. AIDS was and is caused by reckless behavior and many people do not indulge in reckless sexual promiscuity. Yes a few unfortunates got AIDS through blood transfusions but it is so insignificant to be meaningless. Government and society and ”science” does not tell us the truth inspite of what you believe. Democrats believed that 41 percent of people who got covid were hospitalized when only 1 to 4 percent were. The truth is evasive.

      • There’s no vaccine for AIDS, so what does that have to do with this topic? I smell homophobia. Anyone who thinks that sexual promiscuity is limited to one group of people is living on a different planet, especially these days. But yes, I hold medical science and those who dedicate their life to the study of it in much higher regard than paranoid crackpots.

  7. How about put all the non immunized kids in one school? Just to see how it plays out, I’m pretty sure we know which group will have more disease.

  8. Kariko and Weissman, brilliant American scientists, just won the Nobel Prize for producing the first Covid vaccine. But let’s listen to ill-informed crackpots who think the effective vaccines that helped prevent serious illness in many were a conspiracy invented to battle “a cold”.

  9. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

    This is what the CDC actually says when it compares differences and likenesses to the the flu, not “a cold”. I don’t know why the Times allows one commenter to repeatedly state his untrue garbage on here.
    Vulnerable people are still getting quite ill and there is an increase in hospitializations and death, more than from a seasonal flu. It is recommended that vulnerable people still take other precautions like wearing a good mask, and to get the latest shots available now. The Yale Medicine link above has good information.

  10. Jackie, you seem to be taking advantage of the MV Times willingness to post comments that are pro vaccine against those who can’t get comments posted that argue against the narrative that vaccines are safe and effective. Do you ever consider the huge financial bias towards vaccination from those who profit from them ? Just wondering if money (profit) has anything to do with vaccination promotion ? Sixty five years on the planet and I have learned that when it comes to corporations and politics that it is all about the money, but yet money and profit are never discussed when vaccines are the topic. It’s all very weird that the gaslighting and personal attacks come from the pro vaccine side of the argument and the safety first side of the argument that has no financial stake in the vaccine agenda most leave the personal attacks for the bullies.

    • Well. Tim, you’re wrong about why some (most?) antivax comments don’t get published here. The reality is, the Times made a commitment to the community some time back, that they will not publish false Covid info, false vaccine info, and false climate change info in these comments. I apologize to the Times for being hard on the moderator for allowing some false info slip into the comments, and I actually thank you, Tim, for making clear that the Times is indeed doing their best to keep the false vaccination information promoted by paranoid conspiracy crockpots out of thus forum.

      As for the rest of your blather, boo-hoo. People who don’t have a leg to stand on tend to lash out and cry rivers of victimhood as their last defense: Scam! Hoax! Witch-hunt! Bullies! Horrible people! Sound familiar?

    • Tim- Where do you get the idea that the
      Times doesn’t publish comments that are
      anti vaccine.?
      Don’t you read the comments ?
      And as for the personal attacks coming
      from the “pro vaccine side” Just look at
      John Axel’s comment above on this
      very thread on Oct 2
      But just in case you don’t want to be
      bothered to look for it ;
      John Axel October 2, 2023 At 12:39 pm
      “If I see someone walking down the street
      wearing a mask I steer clear of them.
      They obviously have a mental health issue.
      No different than seeing someone waving a
      machete walking down the street. Stay away!”
      He seems to be concerned about people with
      machetes– but is all in for people waving
      guns around.
      I wonder why ?
      Could it be that the image of someone wielding
      a machete is poor and a person of color,
      and white Americans have a constitutional
      right to have guns ?

  11. You know, I respect people’s’ opinions.
    We all have one.
    And when someone’s kid gets really sick or dies
    because their parent has some whacko opinion about
    vaccinations, I will not have any sympathy for the
    parents. I will feel bad for the life cut short, and
    hope the ignorant parents are prosecuted for
    But— If someone else has a child that has health
    issues and is not eligible to receive the vaccine and
    contracts a preventable disease and dies from it, I would
    hope the authorities could track down the ignorant
    and negligent parents of the child who passed this on
    and charge them with negligent homicide.
    I’m serious—
    Waco nutcase parents trying to “protect”
    their children from some preventable disease
    because they think their child is special and not part of the
    “herd” should be prosecuted when an immunocompromised
    child contracts one of these preventable diseases.
    The selfish willful ignorance is disgusting.
    It’s especially ironic in Chilmark.
    Most of the citizens there think they are part of a
    “community” . Nothing could be further from a
    community than to recklessly endanger your neighbors children.

    • Question: how many children on Martha’s Vineyard have died of Covid? I don’t believe it’s an even one. So how is your discussion relevant? And that is not a rhetorical question.

    • I have several friends who for various reasons are immunocompromised and have been for decades. Not a one of them thinks the rest of the world should walk around worrying about them. They’ve always taken precautions they need to protect themselves from the big bad world. So the pharmaceutical companies can sell a vaccine which has not stop transmission of Covid, not in the least we are deliberately creating a situation in which Americans are weak and fearful. You initially begin your argument by saying you respect other peoples. Which isn’t true, is it, because you then go on to say that you think these people should be prosecuted for not doing things your way. It makes you sound dangerousl angry and controlling. It makes you sound fascist. Just saying…

  12. There’s no such thing as “herd immunity” when it comes to Covid, anymore than with the common cold. When an alleged scientist or a doctor mentions herd immunity in connection with Covid I stop listening because that is as anti-scientific a connection as possible.

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