NBC 5 Investigates

Beyond COVID: Hundreds of Area Schools Post Low Vaccination Rates — Or None at All

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NBC5 Investigates discovered it’s no easy task for parents to find out whether their children’s classrooms have sufficient numbers of students immunized from serious contagious diseases – despite state law that says these numbers should be publicly available.  Search our table at the bottom of this story to find out the most recently-reported vaccination rates for your school.

In the fog of Covid, it’s easy to forget all the other contagious diseases we try to protect ourselves from, through routine vaccinations for measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio and more.

Pediatrician Kristin Kan at Lurie Children’s Hospital says it’s all the more important, now that we are learning to live with Covid-19, that kids get back on track to stay up-to-date on all of these other shots.

Search For Vaccination Rates at Your Children’s Schools Below

“Schools are a setting where children are together for the greater good of learning,” Dr. Kan says. “But we also know that it’s also an environment that can allow for transmission of these particular viruses and bacteria.”

So – Covid or not -- every fall, every parent must submit proof to a school, that their child has all required vaccinations.

Illinois state law says these vaccinations are so important, a child can be kept out of school until they turn in this documentation.  Illinois law also mandates that every school must send all of its vaccination numbers to the Illinois State Board of Education, every fall – and must make the information publicly available. 

The law even says the state can withhold funding to any school that doesn’t have enough immunized kids – or doesn’t submit any numbers at all.

So NBC5 Investigates set out to comb through piles of state records to find the vaccination statuses for 3,058 schools attended by more than a million and a half children in Chicago and the suburbs – to see which schools have safe immunization levels. 

It’s not the first time we’ve done this, but this time, we immediately uncovered a new problem: ISBE has not posted recent vaccination rates since the 2020-2021 school year – nearly two years ago. 

An ISBE spokesperson points out that the board is not legally required to post these rates, though it did – for more than two decades – until just the past few years. The law says it’s the responsibility of the school to post these rates, but – depending on the school district – they are difficult – or impossible -- to find, which means that many Chicago-area parents have no clear way of ensuring that their children have been attending schools with safe levels of immunizations.

Dr. Kan says this data is important.

“It’s about setting enough people up that are in a group setting that have them protected, so you don’t have [those contagious diseases] passing on to other folks,” she says.

So NBC5 Investigates went ahead and analyzed the state’s posted 2020-2021 reports – the most recent available from ISBE -- for six common vaccinations, and found 152 schools, with a total of 28,488 students across the Chicago area, with vaccination levels that were not sufficient – this back when Covid rates were at high levels.

Perhaps more concerning: We found an additional 736 Chicago-area schools – responsible for hundreds of thousands of students -- with no reports posted by the state at all:  Preschools, elementary and middle schools, and high schools; private schools, public schools and parochial schools across greater Chicago where parents have no ready state resource to figure out whether their kids’ schools have been sufficiently protected from rubella, diptheria, chicken pox, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps or polio.

In all, we found that parents at nearly 30% of all Chicago-area schools had kids in classrooms with low immunization rates, or had no access to state information at all, when kids first went back to school during Covid.

That includes the more-than-340,000 children who attend Chicago’s 638 public schools. In fact, NBC5 Investigates cannot find any vaccination rates posted for any Chicago public school since way back in 2018 – more than four years ago.

Remember that state law says CPS must make these immunization levels publicly available. But when we asked CPS for last year’s rates – submitted last fall – a CPS spokesperson told us we would have to file a public-records request – not with them, but with the state.

So – has the state withheld funding from any school, because of missing reports? The state tells us no; that they’d rather work with each school to get them up to compliance levels. But the state did not answer our questions about how they appear to be missing so many vaccination reports from so many schools, for so many years.

Could it be that reports like these were left by the wayside when Covid took hold? NBC5 Investigates checked to see if this was a problem for other states as well, but no:  We found that both Indiana and Wisconsin have up-to-date immunization posted, publicly and readily available online, on each state’s websites, for their parents.

So NBC5 Investigates has created a searchable table, where parents can check the most recent reports – those from the 2020-2021 school year – to see how safe their kids’ schools were, at least back then.  If – or when – we can get the most recent vaccination reports sent to the state, we’ll update this table with those current numbers.

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