- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Hundreds of schools in Arizona allowed parents to enroll kindergarteners last year without signing forms saying whether they vaccinated their children against measles, a newspaper reported.

Several schools had vaccination rates well below what health officials consider safe, and only 30 percent of kindergartners at one school were inoculated for measles.

“A school like that can be ground zero for an outbreak,” said Sean Elliott, medical director of University of Arizona Infection Prevention.

Seven people in Arizona have been diagnosed with measles amid a national outbreak of the highly contagious disease that lingers in the air for up to two hours after a contagious person leaves. Up to 1,000 people statewide have been exposed.

Nearly one in three kindergarteners throughout the state who are unvaccinated were enrolled in schools without their parent signing the exemption form, as required by law, The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/1u4vaby ), citing the newspaper’s review of public records.

The law allows officials to suspend students without an exemption form and to help identify unvaccinated students so they can be sent home in the case of an outbreak.

Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said that state and county officials check on schools with missing exemptions. But he said that isn’t enough.

“That’s something we need to work on for sure,” he said, adding that poor schools lack the resources while more affluent schools need to make it a higher priority.

The exemption form is designed to help parents understand the risks of leaving their children unvaccinated and consider the consequences more deeply.

Some 88 percent of kindergartners at Frank Borman Elementary School were vaccinated last year, said Rebecca Osuna, assistant superintendent at Cartwright School District in Phoenix.

District health officials often confront language and cultural barriers of parents born outside the United States, she said, but once they understand the requirements they comply, Osuna said.

Keven Barker, principal of Ridgeline Academy in Maricopa County, said that parents with children in charter schools like his are often leery of government mandates. His school reported that 71 percent of its students were vaccinated and that few exemptions forms were on file.

There’s little consequence initially for school administrators like him, Barker said.

“There’s no penalty,” he said. “It’s like, OK, submit the report. We don’t know the importance of it. We’re not reached out to… they didn’t talk to us about it.”

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