St. Croix County public health officials began exploring outreach possibilities after reviewing data that showed fewer than 60% of local 5-year-olds were on schedule with recommended vaccinations.

According to data released at the Wednesday, May 8, St. Croix County Health and Human Services (HHS) Board meeting, 58% of the county's 5-year-olds were up-to-date with their vaccinations as of the end of March. The percent of St. Croix County 2-year-olds up to date on measles vaccinations was 81% and 64% for 5-year-olds.

St. Croix County Public Health Administrator Kelli Engen noted that the data did not include children who see doctors in Minnesota, which could have driven down the numbers.

Paul McGinnis, a retired Hudson doctor who serves on the board, acknowledged that aspect but said the data left him concerned.

"These are bad numbers," he said.

McGinnis told board members that in order to adequately protect a population from measles - a disease that has caught international attention this year after outbreaks in New York and Europe - that between 92 and 95% should be vaccinated.

"This could blow up in our county just like it did in New York or other places very quickly," McGinnis said at the meeting.

Engen said her office would begin exploring a public information campaign on the issue via social media. County Board Supervisor Tammy Moothedan, who serves on the HHS board, supported the outreach effort and encouraged other public awareness efforts.

Engen said after the meeting that while the March St. Croix County vaccination data is "super concerning," she said it likely reflects some families who opt to vaccinate children incrementally rather than following recommended schedules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also reiterated the likelihood that the numbers of St. Croix County children seen by Minnesota doctors may have presented an incomplete picture of vaccination rates here.

Still, she said "we want to see better immunization rates, but we want to see it across all lifespans" and not just children.

Engen's report to the panel included information on students who have submitted personal conviction waivers that release them from complying with immunization requirements.

The data, spanning 2011-2019, showed a peak during the 2015-16 school year when 6.8% of students submitted the waivers. That number dropped to 5.9% for this school year.

Different states allow different reasons for waiving vaccination requirements for attending public schools. Besides personal convictions, Wisconsin also allows religious beliefs and medical reasons as waiver provisions. Engen said the report she compiled for St. Croix County did not include religious beliefs or medical reasons because the number of those students appeared to be statistically insignificant.

"They were very low, low numbers," she told the board.

Engen and St. Croix County Corporation Counsel attorney Heather Wolske also described to HHS board members the county's public health emergency plan, of which isolation and quarantine processes are a component.

Wolske said that in the event of an emergency, counties begin by contacting the infected person and seeking voluntary isolation. If the patient doesn't want to be isolated, the county can seek a court order for isolation that would be executed by the sheriff's office, she said. The policy governs isolation - for patients exhibiting symptoms - and quarantine, for people exposed to a disease who aren't showing symptoms.

"We haven't had to utilize those orders but we have them all in place, so if anything were to come about and we would need to utilize it, we have everything all ready to go," Wolske said.