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Lawmaker: Make schools post vaccination rates, other health information to websites

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A Democratic lawmaker wants to require Arizona schools to post health-related information on their websites including immunization rates among students – information he says is especially important given the measles outbreak originating at Disneyland.

“Large populations are refusing to vaccinate their children,” said Rep. Juan Jose Mendez, D-Tempe.

Mendez authored HB 2466, which would make public schools post the immunization rate among their pupils and whether each school employs a nurse or has another employee perform that role. If a school lacks a nurse, the bill would require it to post the qualifications of the person doing that job.

Arizona law requires schoolchildren in different grades to receive certain immunizations. However, the law allows parents to opt out by citing personal beliefs or medical reasons.

The opt-out rates have climbed in recent years, a shift that health officials and immunization advocates can put schools and communities at risk for diseases such as whooping cough and measles once considered eradicated.

On Thursday, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health announced that the measles outbreak originating in California has reached Arizona after a woman in her 50s tested positive.

“It’s in the public and it’s happening right now where these situations are coming back at full force,” Mendez said. “I think the best way to combat them is with information.”

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, from 2010-2014 the percentage of coverage for measles, mumps and rubella for kindergarten students decreased from 95.3 percent to 93.9 percent.

During the same period, the rate of total personal belief exemptions increased from 3.2 to 4.7 percent.

In certain areas, however, those rates are far higher. In Yavapai County, for example, 11.6 percent of parents of kindergartners received personal beliefs exemptions in 2013-2014, well above the state average of 4.7 percent. The MMR vaccination rate among kindergartners was 86.8 percent; the state average was 93.9 percent.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, executive director for the Arizona Partnership for Immunization, said the change would make Arizona children safer.

“The combination of the school nurse presence and a high immunization rate protects the child who may have a condition that doesn’t allow them to be immunized,” she said. “The best way to protect them from a disease is to be in an environment where everyone else is.”

The Arizona School Boards Association, which represents the interests of public school governing boards, emailed a statement in response to a reporter’s questions objecting to requiring schools to post whether they have nurses on staff.

“The larger issue is that many schools don’t have a nurse, not because it’s not a priority but because they can’t afford it,” the statement read. “So, the underlying concern is that this is used as a tool to misinterpret public perception of student safety not being a priority. Student safety remains a top priority in all schools.”

Mendez’s bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. He said he doesn’t expect it to become law but added that the information regarding the lack of immunization would be valuable for parents.

“The bill is trying to bring information out,” he said. “How can we get people to act on this if they don’t even know the rate of immunizations?”