AUGUSTA, Maine - Today the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is announcing the release of the Immunization Assessment of School-Aged Children for the 2018-2019 school year. The Assessment is conducted annually, and evaluates Maine schools' immunization data for students in kindergarten, 7th, and 12th grades. Specifically, it reviews schools' compliance with Maine's immunization requirements for varicella (chicken pox); Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR); Polio; Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTaP); and Meningococcal Meningitis (MenACWY) for 7th and 12th grade entry

Overall, this year's report indicates immunization rates among school-age children continue to decrease. Among kindergarteners, the MMR vaccination rate has dropped to the lowest rate among all required vaccines, decreasing from 94.3 percent in the 2017-2018 school year to 93.8 percent in this most recent year. This continued downward trend in immunizations means Maine is below the "herd" immunity level of 95 percent immunization for all vaccine requirements except varicella. Herd immunity occurs when a high percentage of a community is immune to a disease through vaccination and/or prior illness, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, even among unvaccinated individuals. Currently, 172 of 341 total kindergarten classes fall below this 95 percent threshold

Additionally, this year's assessment shows an increase in medical, religious, and philosophical exemptions across the state. Non-medical exemptions (religious and philosophical) for kindergarten students rose from 5.0 percent in the 2017-2018 school year to 5.6 percent in the 2018-2019 school year. Medical exemptions increased from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent

The kindergarten exemption rates are now at an all-time high of 6.2 percent. These immunization rates date back to the 2009-2010 school year

Current Maine law allows students in public and private elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools to be exempt from immunization for certain medical, religious, or philosophical reasons. Children may not attend school without providing a complete immunization record or a form with qualifying exemptions. Maine's noncompliance rate (reflecting children with missing records) continues to rise, with a rate of 10.2 percent for 12th-grade students

Maine CDC's Acting Director Nancy Beardsley recently testified in support of a bill that seeks to address the concerning downward trend of immunization rates in school-age children. LD 798, "An Act to Protect Maine Children and Students from Preventable Diseases by Repealing Certain Exemptions from the Laws Governing Immunization Requirements," seeks to remove religious and philosophical exemptions from the Department of Health and Human Services' and the Department of Education's immunization rules in an effort to keep Maine children safe from infectious disease.

In her testimony, Acting Director Beardsley noted that, "When someone chooses not to vaccinate, that decision can jeopardize the health and safety of entire communities, especially the weakest and most vulnerable among us."

Immunization is proven to be the most effective way to prevent the spread of infectious disease. In the United States, vaccines are thoroughly tested and continuously monitored to ensure ongoing safety. For information on the importance of immunization, please visit the Maine Immunization Program website at: www.ImmunizeME.org

For additional information on Maine immunization rates, including Immunization Assessments from previous years, please visit: www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/immunization/publications