Students in Martha’s Vineyard public schools have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, according to data released by the Department of Public Health.

The Chilmark School kindergarten was flagged as having the second highest vaccine exemption rate of any school in Massachusetts, with 23.1 per cent of students receiving exemptions from one or more vaccines, while 7 per cent received no vaccinations.

Kindergartners across Dukes County have a higher proportion of vaccine exemptions than anywhere else in the state, with a 6.3 per cent countywide exemption rate compared to the 1.4 per cent state average. The rate is a reduction from 2021, when the Gazette reported that 7.5 per cent of Island kindergartners received an exemption.

According to the Department of Public Health website, “areas with higher exemption rates may be more susceptible to disease outbreaks because these students are not fully protected.”

Susan Stevens, head of Chilmark School, said she was not concerned about the high exemption rate. Most of the exemptions, she said, come from parents who prefer to spread out the required school vaccinations over a longer period of time, rather than getting them all at once.

“Parents here are fearful of giving their newborn child, or their six-month-old child, 10 shots,” she said, “because of a variety of information that has been floating out there about what shots cause . . . . There’s not enough known about long-term effects of all the different vaccinations.”

Other kindergarten classes on the Island also have high rates of vaccine exemption: 9.2 per cent in Edgartown, 7.9 per cent in West Tisbury and 12.9 per cent at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. Oak Bluffs and Tisbury have rates of 2.2 and 3.1, respectively.  

The West Tisbury School, which joins the Chilmark School as a member of the Up-Island Regional School District, has the second highest level of seventh-grade vaccine exemptions in the state at 8.5 per cent. The Chilmark School does not continue to seventh grade.

Ms. Stevens attributed the higher level of exemptions across the Island to a high level of health-conscious parents.

“I think it might be a cultural thing on the Island,” she said. “We have people who are very aware of health concerns... and I think some of them do not feel that the amount of shots that they are being requested to give at a very early age are good for their kids.”

Once they reach high school, though, most Vineyard students are fully vaccinated, state data indicates, with just 1.8 per cent of Dukes County 11th-graders receiving exemptions.