An important NDSU study about immunization rates in North Dakota schools is soon to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The article, titled “Enforcement Associated With Higher School-Reported Immunization Rates,” will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal this fall.
The report was written by Kylie Hall, project manager, NDSU Center for Immunization Research and Education; Molly Howell of the North Dakota Department of Health; Rick Jansen, NDSU assistant professor of public health; and Dr. Paul Carson, NDSU professor of practice, management of infectious diseases.
The Center for Immunization Research and Education in the NDSU Department of Public Health was contracted by the North Dakota Department of Health to study issues relating to falling immunization rates in children in the state.
During the 2015-16 academic year, the researchers extensively examined kindergarten vaccination rates for such diseases as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, attenuated pertussis, hepatitis B and polio. According to the report, as many as 7 percent of kindergarten students were not compliant with immunization requirements.
“One of the major issues our research identified is that local school officials are responsible for enforcing state immunization policy. North Dakota Century Code requires that children must be immunized, or have a legitimate exemption to immunization, before being allowed to enter school each year,” Carson explained. “Our study showed that enforcement was markedly variable from school district to school district across the state, with many school districts not enforcing this policy. Our study showed that lack of enforcement was directly correlated with high numbers of non-compliant children regarding their immunization status. In fact, we were able to show that by simply enforcing existing policies and laws, our state would likely exceed national goals for immunization rates in our children.”
The study was delivered to the Department of Health and Department of Public Instruction, and made available to state legislators. It already has had an impact.
“This has brought much-needed attention to the issue, and has led to a much greater emphasis on proper enforcement of existing policy,” Carson said. “In the wake of our report, most school districts changed their enforcement policies in this last academic school year, and immunization rates have risen dramatically.”
In addition, the report received attention from the Centers for Disease Control, which profiled the work in a soon-to-be-published report, as an example for other states facing similar issues.
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