Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford), lead sponsors of the Community Immunity Act, testified alongside healthcare providers, public health experts, and educators at a virtual Public Health Committee hearing on Monday in favor of the Community Immunity Act (S.1517/H.2271).
This legislation seeks to prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases by promoting and supporting localized herd immunity statewide. The Community Immunity Act strengthens the Commonwealth’s immunization policies by standardizing the immunization requirements for all schools, daycare centers, and other covered programs and centralizing within the Department of Public Health (DPH) the processes for obtaining an exemption from those requirements.
According to a press release issued on Monday, Massachusetts does not have localized herd immunity across the state for many vaccine-preventable diseases. Of the kindergarten programs that submitted data to DPH in 2019-20, 145 kindergarten programs are below herd immunity rates for measles, 119 kindergarten programs are below herd immunity rates for pertussis, and 71 programs reported at least 10 percent of students are missing one or more vaccines required for school, without an approved exemption.
“As has become blatantly obvious over the last year and a half, every Bay Stater deserves strong public health protections. COVID reminds us that our collective health and safety rises or falls together,” said Sen. Rausch. “If ever there were a time to advance the Community Immunity Act and its comprehensive immunization infrastructure, that time is now.”
The release also stated that the Department of Public Health lacks complete data on immunization rates in daycare centers, K-12 schools, summer camps, and colleges because data reporting is voluntary. In the 2019-2020 school year, 451 middle schools, 520 kindergarten programs, and 1,677 daycares and preschools failed to report any immunization data to the MA Department of Public Health.
According to recently available data from DPH, in 2020, 18.8 percnet of kindergarten students in Suffolk county, 14.4 percent in Franklin county, and 8.6 percent in Hamden county are not meeting school vaccination requirements. Under current statute, school and program administrators are charged with implementing certain immunization protocols, including vaccine exemption requests, rather than medical and public health professionals.
“Senator Rausch and I filed this bill long before COVID hit because even then Massachusetts had a serious immunization infrastructure problem, and we had already seen multiple outbreaks of measles and other illnesses that we can prevent with vaccines,” said Rep. Donato. “We all know a lot more about community immunity now. All of us are living through the consequences of what happens when we do not have strong public health infrastructure and herd immunity against infectious diseases.”
More than 20 religious, educational, medical, and public health organizations support the Community Immunity Act including:
- American Federation of Teachers – MA Chapter
- Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA)
- Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)
- League of Women Voters
- Massachusetts Association of Health Boards
- Massachusetts Association of Health Offices
- Massachusetts Association of School Committees
- Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
- Massachusetts Coalition of Nurse Practitioners
- Massachusetts Health Council
- Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association
- Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association
- Massachusetts Infectious Diseases Society
- Massachusetts Nurses Association
- Massachusetts Medical Society
- Massachusetts School Based Health Alliance
- Massachusetts Teachers Association
- National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners – MA Chapter
- National Association of Social Workers – MA Chapter
- Progressive Mass