More parents claiming vaccine exemptions for K-12 students

LIMA — Fewer Allen County schoolchildren are finishing their required immunizations, a sign that mistrust of the coronavirus vaccines may have made some parents weary of routine vaccines children have received for decades.

Ohio Department of Health data show only 87% of Allen County kindergarteners finished all of their required immunizations for the 2020-21 school year, down 5 percentage points from the 2018-19 school year.

Even fewer seventh (85%) and 12th grade students (83%) here finished their required vaccines last school year, ODH data show.

State law requires children to receive polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles, mumps, rubella vaccines before starting kindergarten.

Additional vaccines are required before starting seventh and 12th grade.

But parents can exempt their child from those requirements by requesting a medical exemption or claiming a religious or conscience objection, an increasingly common trend in Allen County.

Six percent of Allen County students enrolled in kindergarten last school year claimed religious or conscience objections to required vaccines, an increase from before the pandemic, while another 7% of kindergarteners missed their vaccines but did not report an exemption to their school, ODH data show.

Similarly, 7% of seventh graders and high school seniors here claimed religious or conscience objections last school year, while another 8% of seventh graders and 10% of seniors did not report their vaccination status or request an exemption, ODH data show.

Lisa Horstman, an immunization coordinator for Allen County Public Health, often hears from pediatricians that rapidly changing COVID guidance and vaccine messaging confused parents.

“And now there’s a trust issue that’s trickled to our other vaccines,” Horstman said.

Only 3% of kindergarten students statewide claimed an exemption from vaccines last school year, but another 11% were classified as incomplete.

The trend puts children at risk of developing preventable illnesses.

A measles outbreak in Columbus has infected at least 85 children—36 of whom were hospitalized—since November, according to Columbus Public Health. All but five of those children were unvaccinated.

Ohio’s last measle’s outbreak occurred in 2014, infecting 382 people.

“It is vitally important for children to stay up to date with all of the recommended vaccines,” ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said last June when the state confirmed its first measles case of the year. “Vaccines protect us against preventable, communicable diseases.”