Data shows Hawaii vaccination exemptions steadily increasing

The number of vaccine exemptions in Hawaii is growing every year. A recent report by the Hawaii Department of Health, evaluated data from each of the 409 schools in the state to better understand vaccination trends. One school on Maui topped the chart with 52.7 percent of the students exempt. And, nine out of ten of the schools with the top rates of unvaccinated children are on neighbor islands.


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Several school officials, and Hawaii Health Department workers, spoke with Hawaii Public Radio about the topic and vowed to continue working with educators, and the community to spread awareness about vaccinations.

“When our parents are making choices similar to other schools in our area, and perhaps in Maui in general, by the time they’ve come to us, they’ve made the heart of their immunization choices,” Kelly Brewer, a school administrator told Hawaii Public Radio in regards to the growing number of school exemptions.

Hawaii state law requires all K-12 children meet specific immunization requirements to attend school. State data shows that the number of medical and religious exemptions has increased in recent years. Both public and private schools are required to submit vaccination information to the state Department of Health. This information is used to determine the overall school enrollment rate, and then the rate of annual medical and religious exemptions that occur.

At a time when the national vaccination rates are higher than they have been in twenty five years, local residents are beginning to weigh in on the topic.

“The bigger context is that we should be concerned there are increasing numbers of exemptions,” Department of Health Immunization Branch Chief Ronald Balajadia said in an interview with Maui News.

Balajadia added that because of Hawaii’s desirability for vacation, the high number of people coming in and out of the state makes residents especially susceptible to illness. This is especially true when the rate of exemptions is climbing.

“The fact is, it just takes one person who is susceptible, regardless of which locations have the highest and who has the lowest [immunization rates],” Balajadia continued in the Maui News interview.

The Hawaii Legislature introduced several bills related to vaccinations during the 2019 legislative session. These measures attempted to provide additional transparency to data collection and increase access to vaccinations and immunizations, but most of the bills failed to make it past introduction and referral to committees.

SB 925 and 926 would have repealed the Department of Health’s authority to adopt, amend, or repeal rules to establish a list of specific required vaccines and the immunization recommendations of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In other words, if this bill had become law it would have removed the Hawaii Department of Health’s ability to amend, or repeal the vaccine requirements that come from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The bill was introduced and referred to committee, but no additional actions took place.

SB 203 and HB 686: Clarifies the existing law that pharmacists may perform certain vaccinations and immunizations and requires them to keep immunization records. Senate Bill 203 has been sent to the governor for consideration. 

Given the new information in the report it will be important to watch for vaccination and immunization content during interim committees, and for additional vaccine related legislation in future sessions.