School districts in New Mexico are stepping up their enforcement of vaccination rules in the wake of recent measles outbreaks in other parts of the country. Santa Fe Public Schools will begin turning away students who haven’t met the requirements Tuesday. School Board President Steve Carrillo says the district is enforcing state policy that’s already in place.
Carillo: Our policy is to be in compliance with state law and the department of health. The district has not taken a stand on whether or not to vaccinate.
KUNM: But you are going to be stepping up enforcement of the policies that are already in place.
Carrillo: That’s correct. And there’s no question it’s the measles outbreak that has made us look at this decision. It was Vice President Price of the board who felt like we needed to look deeper into where we might not be compliant as a safety issue for all of our kids. To be in compliance children need to have one of three things: to have been vaccinated, to have an exemption for religious reasons, or to have an exemption for medical reasons where they have a note for the doctor.
KUNM: This isn’t a new policy, it’s a state policy that you’re making an effort to become in line with. So why in the past hasn’t this been enforced to the same degree?
Carrillo: It has been enforced. Our nurses are constantly calling parents and saying, “Your kid is missing this vaccine or this vaccine, and you need to take care of it.” And parents have not. It’s not that we’ve dropped the ball. We’ve always done our best to be in compliance. But sometimes I think until you tell parents, “We’re probably not going to let you have your son in school today unless you’re in compliance,” then all of a sudden they go to their doctor, they get a vaccination or they get the exemptions they need.
KUNM: What is the vaccination rate in Santa Fe Public Schools now?
Carrillo: I don’t know the exact rate, and that’s something the Department of Health is looking into. They are going to give us the numbers this week. We know that in some schools there’s a higher rate of compliance than others. But we obviously want all of our schools to be 100 percent compliant with the law.
KUNM: And are there many exemptions for religious or medical reasons there? Is that something that’s common?
Carrillo: I know that the exemption rate has increased over the last couple of years. And I don’t believe it’s just for us, I believe it’s that way in New Mexico. I would say the biggest issue is just making sure that parents do the follow through on their end.
KUNM: What have you heard from parents on this issue, are they upset? Are they grateful that you’re stepping this up?
Carrillo: I haven’t heard a thing. Not one email and not one phone call. However, and I find this kind of ironic, my son is not in compliance. He needs one vaccination to be current, and he hasn’t been able to get it because he’s had the flu. So we’re getting the vaccine first thing tomorrow morning.
If parents come to school that are not in compliance right now with a note from their doctor with a vaccination scheduled, then their child will be allowed to attend school. If they haven’t done anything, procedurally the schools will be coming up with their own plans. But my understanding is that these children will not be able to remain in school.
Funding for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the McCune Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Find out more at publichealthnm.org.