The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released the state’s 2021/2022 immunization rates for grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 (PK-12) on Monday as children across the state head back to school.
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CDPHE reported 954,919 PK-12 students were fully immunized in the previous academic year with a 92% compliance rate. Full immunization accounts for measures that protect against 16 vaccine-preventable infectious diseases, including measles, whooping cough, mumps, polio, and varicella (chickenpox), but not COVID-19.
CDPHE showed that immunization rates for all school-required vaccines fell among K-12 students, with the most pronounced decreases observed among kindergartners. Last year’s immunization rate marks the second consecutive year it has fallen and the lowest rate over the past 5 years.
Public, private, and parochial schools with grades K-12, as well as child care centers, preschools, and Head Start programs licensed by the Colorado Department of Human Services to provide care for 10 or more children are required by state law to collect, track, and report immunization data.
CDPHE collected anonymous immunization and exemption data from 1,338 kindergartens representing 68,253 students, as well 1,940 K-12 schools representing 862,257 students.
According to the department, 86.7% of kindergarten and 91.8% of K-12 students were in compliance with school immunization rules, a decrease of 5.2% and 2.2% compared to 2020-2021 rates, respectively.
Exemption rates also fell across all school-required vaccines for kindergartens, K-12 schools, and child care facilities compared to 2020-2021 rates. Non-medical exemptions decreased for all school-required vaccines for both kindergartners and K-12 students, while medical exemptions increased for kindergartners and K-12 students for all school-required vaccines.
Previously, the state’s school and child care immunization data distinguished personal belief and religious exemptions. Both are now considered non-medical exemptions.
With the new school year in full swing, state health officials have been encouraging parents and guardians to get their children up-to-date on vaccinations.
“Staying up to date on routine vaccinations for preventable diseases is critical to the public health of Colorado,” said Dr. Eric France, Chief Medical Officer, CDPHE. “CDPHE is here to help families track their vaccines and make sure they’re up to date. Childhood and adolescent vaccines save lives, and all Coloradans have access to them regardless of if they have health insurance.”
CDPHE reports 47% of public school students are fully vaccinated while 50.8% have recieved at least 1 dose.
The Biden administration announced Sunday that the government program to provide free at-home testing kits is ending Friday due to “insufficient congressional funding.”
Both federal and state COVID guidelines have loosened ahead of the new school year. CDC is no longer recommending home quarantine for individuals who have been exposed to the virus to see whether they catch COVID. Instead, they suggest wearing a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5.
The state public health department signaled it will maintain a more hands-off approach to COVID that began a year ago and has since relaxed further.
In July 2021, Colorado removed mask requirements for schools and repealed the mandate for school protocols regarding outbreaks and other instances of COVID cases.
In January, the state’s quarantine guidance updated to align with a change in CDC guidance, outlining that students and staff need not quarantine if they were up-to-date on COVID vaccination and shortened the recommended quarantine from 10 to 5 days, with 5 additional days of masking, for those who were not up-to-date.
As of August, quarantine in K-12 settings after “routine classroom exposures” was no longer recommended and placed mitigation strategies at the discretion of the school, the school district, or the local public health agency.
“The last few updates to school guidance sought to reduce the burden of quarantine on school-agers and to prioritize in-person learning as tools to prevent severe disease became widely available in Colorado and is aligned with CDC’s recent guidance,” said the Colorado State Joint Information Center.