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Kids get the point of immunizations

Tom Jackson • Jun 2, 2014 at 6:19 PM

Erie County Health Department officials made a surprising discovery when they checked local schools to see who is doing the best job of ensuring children get immunized.

The school with the worst record, St. Peter Catholic School in Huron, is the one attended by Erie County health commissioner Pete Schade’s kids.

The new survey of immunization rates for the MMR vaccine — measles, mumps and rubella — was prompted by two disease outbreaks in Ohio, for both measles and mumps.    

The state health department’s latest numbers Tuesday showed 111 cases of measles statewide so far, with 73 cases in Knox County (northeast of Columbus) and 17 cases in Ashland County. It’s the largest measles outbreak in the U.S. since 1996. The department has recorded 366 mumps cases,with 301 in Franklin County, where Columbus is located.

State law requires MMR immunization for elementary schoolchildren, although parents can opt out by signing a waiver. The local health department thought it would be a good idea to see how schools are doing in getting their students immunized, said Janet Mesenburg, director of nursing at the health department.

The department surveyed immunization rates in 14 local school districts: districts in Erie County, plus districts in Huron and Ottawa counties where the health department provides a school nurse.

Immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella — MMR

Edison 98 percent

Huron 98 percent

Huron St. Peter 93 percent

Kelleys Island 100 percent

Vermilion 99 percent

Margaretta 99 percent

Perkins 99 percent

Sandusky 98 percent

Sandusky Central Catholic 98 percent

Bellevue 99 percent

South Central 96 percent

Norwalk Catholic 99 percent

Put-in-Bay 99 percent

Danbury 97 percent

A state health department official praised the local department’s efforts during a phone conference call May 13, held to discuss the measles and mumps outbreak.

“It’s a wonderful measure to look at immunization rates by school” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, the state epidemiologist.

For the most part, school officials were pleased with what they found. Most districts had high immunization rates, with many reporting 98 percent, including Sandusky Schools, or 99 percent, including Perkins Schools.

St. Peter, however, listed an immunization rate of only 93 percent, with 14 out of 189 students not vaccinated.

St. Peter principal Denise King said Tuesday she does not know why her school has a low immunization rate.

“I don’t have any idea why it would necessarily be lower” she said.

But Schade, who has two children at the school, has a theory. Each year, Schade explained, the school begins the school year with an orientation meeting for parents.

In fall 2012, Schade was attending the meeting when then-Principal Joy Tokarsky explained the immunization rules, but made a point of adding that parents don’t have to do it.

“I was furious,” said Schade, who said he confronted Tokarsky and also gave an earful to the now-retired priest who supervised the school.

Schade points out that measles remains a serious disease and a leading cause of death around the world.

The World Health Organization says that measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children, responsible for 122,000 deaths in 2012, despite the fact that 84 percent of kids around the world are vaccinated before their first birthday.

Schade said he did his best to talk to other parents and convince them to get their children vacccinated.

Tokarsky is now a teacher at Immaculate Conception School in Bellevue. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mesenburg said the local health department will continue to try to make sure as many children as possible are vaccinated.

“The school nurses review the immunization records of the students and identify those who are not up-to-date with their vaccines,” Mesenburg said. “Parents are contacted and advised to vaccinate their children if there is not a medical contraindication”

The parents are warned that if there’s an outbreak at school of a disease that can be prevented by a vaccine, their children will be pulled from school until the danger of the disease spreading has passed.

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