LIHUE — Take a look at the Hawaii mumps outbreak of 2017.
That’s where state Department of Health Kauai District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman points when looking for results of Kauai’s reportedly high numbers of unvaccinated children as a reflection of the numbers in real life.
That outbreak lasted through 2017, and was declared over in the early months of 2018.
“When we looked at the data just for Kauai, the average age of people getting mumps on Kauai was significantly lower than the statewide average,” Berreman said Friday. “The pattern we saw here is consistent with the data we’re seeing from the schools about exemption rates.”
Throughout the rest of the state, data shows it was mostly late teens and young adults being diagnosed with mumps.
On Kauai, reports of mumps cases were mostly from elementary-school-aged kids.
“That says the disease has gotten into unvaccinated populations and is spreading quickly in unvaccinated populations, which are likely to be younger school-aged people,” Berreman said.
All that goes to show that disease spreads more easily when there are pockets of a population with a high rate of unvaccinated people, health officials say.
There are exemptions allowed to state Department of Education vaccination requirements for religious and medical reasons.
The DOH reports for DOE immunization exemptions for Kauai in the 2018-19 school year, last updated March 21, show some schools having as much as a 40 percent religious exemption rate for vaccinations.
Reporting that percentage is Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Charter School, which has the highest percentage of students with exemptions on the island. The DOE reports Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i has 130 students, nearly half with exemptions.
Hanalei School reports 29 percent of its 252 students are religiously exempt. Kilauea School reports 33 percent of 312 students exempt, Kanuikapono Public Charter School reports 32.9 percent of its 207 students exempt, and Kauai Christian Academy with 21.9 percent exempt of its 73 students.
Medical exemptions are more rare, with only three schools on Kauai reporting a slight percentage, in the 0.3 percent range, in their student bodies.
Reporting no exemptions — religious or medical — are Kauai High School, Kahili Adventist School, Kekaha School, Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha Learning Center, Kula Aupuni Niihau A Kaheleleiani Aloha PCS, and St. Theresa School.
Statewide, DOE officials say they’re on board with the goal “to protect Hawaii’s population from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“This is especially true for susceptible groups like our children, and immunization is a proven means of stopping outbreaks before they happen,” said the state DOE Assistant Superintendent Heidi Armstrong.
Berreman says she’s an advocate for vaccinations and believes they save lives. She also points out she’s a pediatrician and a mother, and understands that “mamma bear” needs to protect her child.
With that, she acknowledges the charged conversation that surrounds vaccinations, and that there are concerns in the community about immunizations and vaccines.
“I think that passion comes from the extent to which people care about their children,” she said.
There are impassioned and entrenched perspectives on both sides of the argument, and the only way forward is to engage in respectful conversation.
“It comes down to trusting the experts in this field that not all of us have expertise in,” Berreman said. “I think, because Kauai is a place where we care about each other as a community, we can come together and at least have respectful conversation.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.