Idaho’s immunization rates reached a five-year high in 2015-2016, Idaho EdNews reported.
State officials haven’t identified a single cause for the increase.
“We kind of attack it on all fronts,” said Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho’s state epidemiologist and the state Department of Health and Welfare’s public health medical director.
Overall, 86.7 percent of Idaho students were considered “adequately immunized,” up from 85.6 percent a year earlier. (Click here to download numbers for Idaho school districts and for the state’s charter schools.) For Hahn and other public health officials — who have been battling to boost Idaho’s lagging immunization rates — the improvement provides some glimmer of hope.
• Fewer parents filed paperwork to excuse their children from immunizations. Parents can request an exemption on medical, religious or philosophical grounds — although some parents fill out the paperwork because it’s easier than updating their kids’ vaccinations. In 2015-16, Idaho’s exemption rate dropped to 6.3 percent, down from a 6.5 percent number that was highest in the nation.
• In 2015, Health and Welfare launched a public awareness campaign, taking its “Choose to Immunize” message to billboards, bus panels and brochures.
• Health and Welfare continued to reach out to health care providers — to make sure they are spreading the word about the importance of immunizations. Each spring, Health and Welfare hosts a series of daylong conferences around the state, and the attendance is increasing annually, said Rafe Hewett, manager of the Idaho Immunization Program.
Still, the immunization campaign comes back to some familiar themes: skepticism and access.
Health and Welfare conferences this spring focused on “vaccine hesitancy,” as nearly 700 health-care providers got a crash course in counseling parents who are skeptical about immunizations. Immunization rates are lower in pockets of the state, particularly northern Idaho — but the Panhandle’s rate did increase by more than 3 percentage points in 2015-16, Hewett said.
Still, the hardline parents who refuse to immunize their kids represent the exception, not the rule. The state sees a more common problem: children who have received only some of the state’s required shots, but not all of them. This suggests an access problem, not an ideological opposition to immunization, Hahn said.
Immunization rates exceed Health and Welfare’s 90 percent target in urban districts such as Boise, West Ada and Nampa. In many rural districts, the numbers are lower. “We can’t conjure more medical care providers in those areas,” Hahn said.