TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — In an effort to improve transparency surrounding the health of school children, the Oklahoma State Department of Health released a survey assessing vaccination coverage among students enrolled in public and private kindergarten.
The OSDH partnered with Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission to complete the survey, which measures the number of students who are up to date on the six required vaccines for children to be enrolled. Along with the annual survey, OSDH officials have created a new interactive online tool - the Kindergarten Immunization Survey GIS Map - for the public to view results of the survey by county, or by individual school.
Mike Mannell, OSDH epidemiologist who oversees the Oklahoma Kindergarten Immunization Survey, said the study is conducted by all 50 states and is forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes the results each year.
"As far as putting this map out and releasing the spreadsheets with all the data and numbers, we did want to move toward a little bit more transparency and some more data and general information for the public," said Mannell.
The OSDH revamped the survey for the 2017-2018 school year, after it was inundated with open record requests and was having to complete customized data requests.
"Really, we're most excited about putting out the interactive GIS map, so members of the community and individuals interested in public health and using this information to drive public health policy could interact with the map," said Mannell.
The OSDH utilizes REDCap software so schools can securely submit their own vaccination rates and exemption rates. The survey is rolled out in November of each year, and the OSDH finalizes the data collection in April. While some states require all schools to complete the survey, Oklahoma does it on a voluntary basis.
According to the 2018-2019 Oklahoma Kindergarten Immunization Survey Results, 91 percent of the public schools and 44 percent of private schools submitted responses and data, which represents 94 percent of public school kindergarten students and 51 percent of kindergartners in private school programs. Across Oklahoma, 91 percent of the responses for kindergarten immunization information were fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, 89 percent of private school kindergartners were vaccinated.
"Analysis of this data drives program activities to improve vaccination coverage in our state," said Interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates. "We appreciate the support from the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the local school officials who contributed to such an important project. We know vaccinations are among the most effective ways to protect against serious diseases."
Twelve of 13 schools within Cherokee County completed the survey, representing 96.7 percent of kindergartners within the county. Among the 96.7 percent of respondents, 92.7 percent of the students surveyed were up to date on all of their vaccines. Concurrently, 1.7 percent of respondents claimed exemptions from receiving required vaccinations. Among the students with exemptions, none claimed it was for medical purposes.
There are three reasons for a child in Oklahoma to have an exemption.
The first reason is for students who have medical conditions that could endanger the life or health of the child if the shots were administered. There also non-medical exemptions.
"We have a standardized form that immunization services accept before they can approve exemptions, and the you can state either personal reasons or religious reasons for your non-medical reasons," said Mannell.
Those who visit the interactive map can see responses from individual schools in Cherokee County. Cherokee, Greenwood, Heritage, Woodall, and Shady Grove schools were all found to have surveyed 95 percent to 100 percent of their students. Keys, Briggs, and Hulbert elementary schools all surveyed 90 to 95 percent of their students. Grand View School surveyed 80 to 90 percent of its students. Lowrey, Tenkiller, and Norwood schools surveyed fewer than 80 percent of their students. Peggs School did not compete the survey.
The statistics for other counties can be seen also, allowing comparison of rates across the state.