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Day care centers, schools get ready for new vaccine rules

  Schools and daycare centers in the Roaring Fork Valley are getting ready for tighter  state rules around vaccines. Colorado’s Health Department will soon beef up how often parents must confirm their child is not vaccinated. The changes come because of Colorado’s lower vaccination rate and events like the mini measles outbreak this winter.

Aspen Mountain Tots is in the Yellow Brick Building, and the private childcare center feels right at home in this former schoolhouse. Director Dawn Ryan is the owner of Mountain Tots and gives me a tour of the infants’ room.

“Our youngest one is Sadie, and she is about 6 months old,” points Ryan, as Sadie plays in the middle of the room. There are three other infants here, and the oldest are about a year old. That includes a little guy watching us closely.

“This is Jens,” says Ryan, “Jens just turned one, actually.” Jens is gnawing a bookcase. “He’s teething, and that tastes really good to him right now,” laughs Ryan. Jens and the other older infants are caught up on the first major rounds of shots. “Whereas Sadie is just getting starting on that,” confirms Ryan, “so we would want to make sure that Sadie is protected.” Sadie’s actually Ryan’s granddaughter, but the program includes more than twenty other children, ranging from a few months old up to three years old. Nearly half are in the process of getting their shots and are not yet fully up to date. Ryan must keep track of who has had what vaccine, in case there is an outbreak of some kind in Colorado.

 

“And then if in fact something happened closer to home, or within our program,” says Ryan, “children without those vaccinations would be excluded from the program until that passed.” Because a kid without shots is more likely to come down with a disease and give it to other more vulnerable children-- like Sadie. At Mountain Tots, kids without vaccines usually are on a doctor-approved slow vaccination schedule… like for Hepatitis B or the measles.

Keeping track of who has which shots requires a lot of paperwork-- and actual paper, not electronic forms. “When they start the program, we ask for their shot records,” says Ryan in her office. She picks up a fat stack of manila folders. “And then each time they go to the doctor, we ask the parents to bring an updated version of the shot record.”

It’s not very user friendly, as Ryan then describes: “we have to transcribe those doctor records. To an approved, state approved form. And then we put it on the master sheet, with all of the children’s names on it. And then we can determine how many shots they are supposed to have by a particular age, and then we’ll know if they’re in progress, or if they have an exemption, or if they’re up to date.”

Right now, if parents choose to not have their child vaccinated for a certain disease, they legally must turn in a form once, and it stays on file all the way through 12th grade. So Ryan’s on the cutting edge, checking in with parents and having the latest vaccination rates all the time at her daycare center. It’s thanks to funding from the City of Aspen’s Kids First program, which is paying for a nurse to assist child care centers with getting ready for new rules. Starting in 2016, parents will have to confirm with day care centers and schools far more often, if their kids are not vaccinated.

  “When shots are due at two, four, six, months, 12 months and 18 months of age, a parent who wants to exempt their child from those vaccines would need to submit a form,” says Dr. Rachel Herlihy, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

So the more vaccines a parent skips, the more forms to fill out. Then, starting in kindergarten, parents have to confirm every year that, for example, their child is not immunized for measles. Herlihy points out convenience is part of the problem right now. “There are some parents who claim an exemption, because it’s easier than taking their child to get vaccinated,” she says.

Getting those parents back on board with vaccinations is a big step towards increasing Colorado’s immunization rates. Herlihy says the new reporting requirements will also reach parents who at first didn’t want to get their kids vaccinated, but have changed their minds. This is important because Colorado’s kindergarteners have the lowest vaccination rates in the country for diseases like measles, tetanus, and whooping cough-- also called pertussis.  That’s
according to the Centers for Disease Control. When kids aren’t vaccinated for a disease, they’re more likely to get sick from it, and Colorado has had a pertussis outbreak in recent years.

Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko is feeling a little cautious about the new rules. “We really will need to contact parents yearly, to see if they still want that exemption,” she says. Parents can also decide not to vaccinate their kids because of religious beliefs or a medical exemption. One example is if a child has a struggling immune system. Another is over concerns about vaccines causing autism, although that’s been proven false. “And I worry that some people will feel that we’re harassing them,” sats Sirko, “or that we’re somehow trying to infringe on their own right to opt out of those immunizations. So it’s a fine line.”

She believes the state is doing the right thing by trying to improve its vaccination rate, numbers that are also true for the Roaring Fork and Aspen schools. Aspen nurse Elise Dreher explains her district’s approach to the new rules this way: “we will just make the exemptions a part of our registration process, just like we do each year with collecting vaccination records.”

To make the whole process easier, the state health department aims to soon have an electronic system so schools and daycare centers can report their latest numbers, in a 21st century fashion.

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