North Dakota Ranks High in Non-Vaccinated School Children

This week marks 60 years of being almost polio-free across the globe, thanks to the vaccine.

It turns out North Dakota has some of the highest rates of non–vaccinated children coming into the schools.

This discovery is part of a new study that’s going to go public this May breaking down where kids aren’t getting their shots and why.

Dr. Paul Carson is worried.

“We’re kind of in trouble in North Dakota. We’re on our way to becoming one of the worst–immunized states in the country,” he said.

Carson, who’s the medical director for the Center for Immunization and Education in the Public Health Department in the College of Health and Professions at NDSU, as well as Director of Infection Prevention at Sanford Health, has been working on a study of how North Dakota stacks up against other states when it comes to vaccinating its kids.

The numbers aren’t encouraging, especially when it comes to the concept of what’s called herd immunity.

“When we drop below 90 to 95 percent rate, we get conditions, for example, the  measles, that can get a foothold,” Carson said. “And right now we’re at the upper 80s for measles vaccination, so we’re there.”

MRR and DTaP vaccination rates are hovering at around 88 percent for North Dakota kids coming into kindergarten for the 2015-2016 school year, a number that’s been steadily dropping since 2001, according to the study’s findings.

Carson thinks one key factor is the influx of new families moving into the state, some of whom may not have their shots, or have their immunization records handy.

School resources for gathering records and keeping them are also not consistent statewide, nor are standards for enforcing the no-shots, no-school rules, he said.

“But it’s also due to kids being opted out by their parents. Not the leading factor, but a significant one,” said Carson.

On the Minnesota side, in Moorhead Public School District, only about one percent of parents have chosen the conscientious objection option, school officials said.

That means they choose not to give their otherwise vaccine-eligible children their shots.

It sounds like a small number, but it works out to about 89 kids throughout the district of some 7,000 children.

That includes vaccines for polio — or pertussis, some cases of which have cropped up there in recent years.

“They just have to complete the paperwork and have it notarized,” said Missy Jacobson, a school nurse in Moorhead’s public school district. “We let them know the risks, and that an outbreak means kids can’t be in school at that time.”

Jacobson said the vaccination numbers in Moorhead are opposite the North Dakota trend.

The statewide rate is about 1.8 percent of families opting out overall.

Vaccination rates, she said, are staying steady, with education offered for parents but without pressure from school officials to follow a traditional vaccination schedule.

State Department of Health statistics say about 92 to 95 percent of incoming Minnesota kindergartners are vaccinated.

“We just respect their wishes. And it is their right,” said Jacobson.

Parents in both states have the right to opt out of getting their kids vaccinated, one of around 18 states that allow those exemptions.

And as more and more parents choose that option, Carson said, it’s a choice that could lead to unintended consequences.

“A number of parents have lost sight of memory of how bad these diseases are, and what they were like,” Carson said.

Compare that 88 percent of North Dakota incoming kindergartners to Minnesota – closer to 94 percent.

Carson thinks the lower number might also be due to schools across North Dakota not having consistent resources to keep track of vaccine records.

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