WESTFIELD, NJ — Local health officials are considering a mandate that pre-schools and day care centers make their immunization rates more widely known.
While the Board of Health has yet to put the proposal in writing, its membership on Feb. 3 discussed mandating that the institutions post vaccination rates online and at their facilities.
“The idea is to inform the parents who are using these facilities what the vaccination rates are of the children at these facilities,” said Board of Health President Lawrence Budnick. “So, we’ll flesh this out and put it on the agenda for the next time.”
While vaccination rates for individual schools and day care centers are made public on the state Health Department’s website, the most recent data available is for the 2017-18 academic year. And while the state requires both public and private schools submit such information, the website notes that not all institutions provide the data. Click here to see if your school is listed on the state website.
The discussion of making vaccination rates more readily available to the public came as the Board of Health last week learned of a series of flu outbreaks in the eight towns the Westfield Regional Health Department serves.
“Right now, the Westfield Regional Health Department is in the middle of six concurrent flu outbreaks,” said Health Department Director Megan Avallone. “Three of those are in high risk childcare centers.”
The outbreaks are at one daycare, one school and four long-term care facilities located within the eight municipalities served by the regional health department, Avallone said. Asked by a reporter, she declined to provide more specific details. The Westfield Regional Health department serves Chatham Borough, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park, Summit and Westfield.
Six outbreaks at one time is the most the regional health department has seen in its history, Avallone said.
Discussion of the possible requirement for more transparency surrounding vaccination rates came during the same meeting at which several members of the public objected to discussion surrounding the board’s support for a state bill to eliminate certain religious exemptions for vaccinations.
Dominique Venezia, a Westfield resident, told the board that she objected to Avallone’s testimony before the state Legislature on the vaccination bill.
“I find that in justifying your position, a lot of your speech is very inflammatory against many of the religiously exempted children,” Venezia said.
Avallone had testified in her capacity as president of the New Jersey Association of County and City Officials. She summed up her stance on the topic in a guest op-ed on the topic, published by NJ Advance Media, that she written in support of the legislation.
“The minority that stands in opposition to vaccination would have others believe that vaccine preventable diseases are a thing of the past, posing no substantive threat in the Garden State,” Avallone writes in the op-ed signed four other public health officials. “As public health professionals, who prepare for, respond to and mitigate outbreaks, we are here to tell you that vaccine naysayers are simply wrong. Dead wrong.”
In Westfield, Avallone reiterated the health establishment’s stance and noted that the bills are anticipated to come up for a vote in the new legislative session.
“If these bills do pass, that certainly does benefit public health,” she said. “The more immunized children we have in the state the less likely we are to see cases of disease.”
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