4 Investigates: 100+ New Mexico schools failed to keep track of vaccination records
April 24, 2019 10:23 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- More than 100 New Mexico schools failed to keep track of student vaccination records as closely as they should, according to a review of state health records.
State law requires parents provide proof to show that their child is vaccinated or has been granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
Across the country, concern is growing as the United States faces the worst outbreak of measles in decades.
While New Mexico hasn’t seen a measles case since 2004, health officials are monitoring the situation as more families choose to not vaccinate their children.
“New Mexico as a state we have pretty good vaccination coverage,” said Epidemiologist Michael Landen of the New Mexico Health Department. “There are pockets… communities that we have to be extra careful about.”
Last year, more than 4,000 students statewide were granted immunization exemptions for either medical or religious reasons. In Santa Fe County, Taos County and Los Alamos County, between 2% and 3% of students are not vaccinated. Most other counties in New Mexico hover below 1%.
Dr. Landen said accounting for every student’s vaccination status is a huge undertaking. Those records are critical in helping the state prepare for and respond to the spread of infectious diseases.
“If people are solely focused on vaccination exemptions, they’re not seeing the whole picture,” said Dr. Landen, adding later: “You have additional kids who are falling through the cracks that perhaps the school districts are not on top of exactly.”
New Mexico schools are required to ensure every student who is not vaccinated has an exemption on file. Data compiled by the state health department reveals that schools are allowing students on campus with neither proof of vaccinations or exemptions – and that violates state law.
According to a New Mexico Health Department survey conducted in the fall of 2017, out of nearly 24,000 kindergarten students statewide, 389 did not have vaccination or exemption records on file.
“It’s just reality that there are certain places that don’t do it as well as others – maybe they’re not as adequately staffed with school nurses,” said Dr. Landen.
According to the 2017 data, at least 113 schools failed at some level to keep accurate records for all of its students. However, some did better than others.
In Gallup, Del Norte Elementary reported missing records for 16 percent of its kindergarten students. School officials did not return request for comment.
In Shiprock, Mesa Elementary lacked records for 25 percent of kindergarten students. School officials confirm they were forced to dis-enroll three students for failing to meet state requirements but they were later re-enrolled once the students met immunization requirements.
In Albuquerque, Emerson Elementary reported missing records for 54 of its 81 kindergarten students. That’s 66 percent of kindergarten students that were unaccounted for at the time.
“Worst case scenario, all 54 are not vaccinated. Best case scenario, we don’t have records for them but all 54 are actually vaccinated. A school like this we need to work more closely with and make sure they’re covered,” said Dr. Landen.
At Emerson Elementary, things are getting better. A spokesperson for Albuquerque Public Schools said they actively work with parents to meet state requirements and currently every kindergarten student is fully vaccinated.
However, that kind of turnaround isn’t always the case for every school that’s fallen short.
State health officials survey most schools on vaccination status and the supporting records. The schools report the information to the state and state health officials conduct spot checks to confirm the data.
However, health experts insist having a clear picture of which student is vaccinated and which student is not – is vital to protecting public health, regardless of where parents stand on the vaccination debate.
Updated: April 24, 2019 10:23 PM
Created: April 24, 2019 07:07 PM
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