SALT LAKE CITY — Public health officials fear it’s only a matter of time before measles arrive in Utah.
The Centers for Disease Control said Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona all have reported cases, while Utah is 680 miles from the nearest ongoing outbreaks in Southern California.
Yet a state report shows nearly two-thirds of Utah’s school districts reported vaccine exemption rates higher than what’s able to prevent the spread of measles.
Utah’s 2018 Immunization Coverage Report showed 5.3 percent of children entering kindergarten had exemptions from the state’s vaccine requirements — 94.7 percent of kids have the required shots.
That’s below the 96 percent mark the National Institutes of Health said is needed to provide herd immunity from measles — the point where the highly infectious disease cannot spread easily between people.
Two of the three most populated school districts in Utah have exemption rates higher than preferred.
The Alpine School District reported 4.8 percent of its kindergartners had filed exemptions to vaccine requirements. The Davis School District reported 4.1 percent of its kindergartners did the same.
Health professionals don’t want to see an exemption rate for entering kindergartners over 4 percent. The Granite School District, Utah’s third largest in the state, had only 2.6 percent of its kindergartners file vaccine exemptions.
The school districts with the highest percent of vaccine exemptions filed are Piute (15.4 percent), Kane (13.6 percent), and North Sanpete (12.6 percent). Those double-digit rates push the students’ herd immunity percentage far below the 96 percent threshold recommended by health professionals.
Students can go to school if they’re not vaccinated, and Utah law allows parents to file medical, religious or personal exemptions from the vaccine requirements. The state report shows personal exemptions far outweigh all others, making up 93.9 percent of all exemptions filed.
Students can also attend school if they don’t meet the vaccination requirements without an exemption. They’re given 30 days to meet the vaccine standards before being barred from attending classes.