Rural Idaho Especially Vulnerable To Low Vaccination Rates

May 20, 2019

Parents whose kids are in public school can be exempted from having to vaccinate on religious or personal grounds. Exemption rates are on the rise across Idaho, up to an all-time high of 7.7%, according to the Idaho Division of Health.


Rural communities, like many towns in Valley County, are particularly vulnerable as more parents choose not to vaccinate.

Donnelly Elementary, for example, has a vaccination rate of just 66%. At Barbara Morgan Elementary in McCall, the rate is 82%.

Brandon Atkins is the Central District Health clinic program manager for Ada, Elmore, Boise and Valley counties. He says an immunization rate of 90% or higher is what epidemiologists are looking for when it comes to preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illness.

"We've seen a lot more exemptions being asked for in the Valley County area, which really drops us below the national average in that jurisdiction," Atkins says.

Rural communities, in particular, are especially vulnerable because, "it takes a smaller number within that population to decide not to [vaccinate] to impact that population adversely," Atkins says.

For example, if you have a rural population of 10 people, only five need to decide not to vaccinate for herd immunity to be severely compromised, he explains.

"It’s kind of an epidemic. If you have more people that are not getting vaccinated, you’re creating a population that’s more at risk of acquiring illnesses that are vaccine preventable because you have less herd immunity within that context," Atkins says.

So ... why don’t people vaccinate?

Atkins says he sees a variety of reasons, like people wanting to take healthcare into their own hands, and the misperception that vaccines are dangerous.

"I am truly, truly an advocate for being able to prevent disease where we can,” Atkins says.

How does your community compare? The Idaho Division of Health publishes vaccination data by school on an interactive map, here.

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