Stricter policies are reducing the number of vaccination waivers in local school districts, officials believe.
The vaccination waiver rate in Rock County schools dropped to 6 percent this year, the lowest since the 2012-13 school year, said Dave Pluymers, associate health director for the Rock County Public Health Department.
Waivers in the Janesville School District have dropped each of the last five school years. This year, the district accepted 801 vaccination waivers. In 2015-16, the district accepted 1,662, according to data provided by the district.
The decline is likely because of recent efforts by the county health department to reduce the number of waivers given to parents as a convenience, Pluymers said.
Some parents found it easier to turn in waivers than to obtain their children’s medical records, Pluymers said.
It is important for the health department to have accurate vaccination data so the department can monitor herd immunity, Pluymers said.
Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient portion of a population is immune to an infectious disease, making spread of the disease unlikely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nursing staff in the Janesville School District over the last two years has focused on encouraging parents to vaccinate their children, Kimberli Peerenboom, director of pupil services, said in an email to The Gazette.
The district no longer offers waivers to families who are behind on vaccinations, Peerenboom said.
Waivers are offered only by parental request or after a conversation between nursing staff and parents, Peerenboom said.
The number of waivers in the Milton School District is higher now than five years ago.
While the number of personal waivers have increased in Milton, so has immunization compliance, said Erin Henning-Kotthaus, Milton school district nurse.
Some families require additional time to get immunizations and often choose to sign a personal waiver. Once the student receives the immunizations, the waiver is discontinued, Henning-Kotthaus said.
“It continues to be a personal choice whether families choose actual immunization compliance or compliance via personal conviction waiver,” Henning-Kotthaus said in a statement to The Gazette.
Immunization rates do not have to drop extremely low for a community to have a major health problem, Pluymers said. It takes only one infected person to spread the disease to others who are not inoculated.
Immunization protects not only the immunized individual but also the community around them, Pluymers said.
Wisconsin is one of 17 states that allows immunization exemptions for personal reasons, according to a 2019 report published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
An outbreak of measles was reported this year in Washington, a state that also allows personal exemptions. In Clark County, Washington, the center of the outbreak, the vaccination rate is 78 percent with some schools having lower than 40 percent vaccination rates, according to a report from National Public Radio.
Students in Wisconsin can waive vaccinations for religious, personal or health reasons.
Some kids cannot be vaccinated because of medical reasons such as an autoimmune disease or a compromised immune system, Pluymers said.
Vaccinating school-aged children is only part of a broader effort, Pluymers said.
The health department is forming a coalition to address immunization rates for everyone, including adults and infants, Pluymers said.
Immunization rates in Rock County for nearly every recommended vaccination fell from 2013 to 2017, according to the Wisconsin Immunization Program.
The coalition will bring together public health officials, health system professionals, pharmacists and other members of the community to promote immunization.
TOWN OF DARIEN
An energy company’s plan to build a 250-megawatt solar farm in the town of Darien will be discussed Monday by a Walworth County Board committee as some debate a similar proposal from the same company in Iowa County.
Invenergy, a Chicago company, has been negotiating land leases for solar panel arrays in the town of Darien since 2017. A spokeswoman said Friday the company has secured land agreements in the town and surrounding area, but the project remains in the “really early stage.”
The Walworth County Board Land Conservation Committee will discuss a letter from a concerned resident about the company’s negotiations. The company spokeswoman said an Invenergy representative will be at the committee’s meeting.
The Walworth County negotiations come as some debate a joint proposal by Invenergy and two Wisconsin utility companies to build a 300-megawatt solar farm in Iowa County. That project, which the state’s Public Service Commission is considering, would be the largest solar farm in the Midwest.
Iowa County land owners who support that project and clean-energy advocates say the income from the land leases would be guaranteed, unlike profits from cash crops, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Some Iowa County residents have raised concerns about the sweeping proposal, which would feature 1.2 million solar panels. Critics worry the panels would render valuable farmland useless for years, hurt the area’s scenic beauty and create loud noises, the State Journal reported.
Residents in Walworth County have echoed similar concerns about the company’s plans near Darien.
Judy Gause, whose family has land in the town of Darien, wrote a letter to Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl on Jan. 22 questioning the location of the company’s land agreements.
Gause wrote that Invenergy is considering farmland that is part of the fertile Rock Prairie enrolled in the Farmland Preservation Program. Pressure is being applied to landowners to abandon the program and sign agreements with Invenergy, she wrote.
Gause worried the farmland won’t be restored after being occupied by solar panels for several decades. She wrote that placing solar panels there could tamper with cover crops and the fertile soil.
Stray voltage from the panels and electrical transmission could be dangerous for neighboring livestock, she wrote.
“Perhaps the Invenergy company could take a different approach to solar energy,” Gause wrote. “Could they help individual residents put up solar collectors that are affordable and easy to maintain with guaranteed access to the electrical grid?”
While the land conservation committee will discuss Gause’s letter Monday, the county would not have any regulatory authority over the Darien solar farms because the arrays would produce more than 99 megawatts of electricity.
Neil Palmer, a project consultant with Invenergy, said last year the state Public Service Commission and Department of Natural Resources will determine whether to issue the company permits because the arrays would generate utilities that benefit the entire state, not just the county.
Walworth County Board member Charlene Staples, who represents parts of the town of Darien, chairs the land conservation committee. She said several local landowners have contacted her and aired concerns about the proposal.
Among the concerns are invasive plants creeping into neighboring farmland while the company leases land, static electricity and the use of eminent domain if power lines need to be constructed to a substation, Staples said.
“These are legitimate questions, and I want these fears eliminated,” Staples said. “I am a supporter, absolutely, of renewable energy, and I think that Wisconsin should move forward with that. But these are legitimate concerns, and hopefully, they can be answered.
“We don’t have a whole lot of local control. We can have this meeting and talk about it and get more information, but really ... there’s not a whole lot we can do.”
Christiana M. Aldrich
Elizabeth A. “Kaye” Dooley
Judith A. Draper
Duane N. Licht
Gerald G. “Jerry” Robinson