Child vaccination rates are falling again, alarming experts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Federal health officials said Thursday that the percentage of kindergarten students who did not receive the routine vaccination of children rose again during the 2021-2022 school year, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupted efforts to vaccinate children.
Overall immunization rates among kindergartners remain high, but coverage fell by two percentage points from 95 percent in the pre-pandemic 2019-2020 school year to 93 percent in 2021-2022, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ).
“While this may not seem significant, it means that approximately 250,000 kindergarteners are likely not protected against measles alone,” said Georgina Peacock, director of the Division of Immunization Services at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine coverage during both the 2020-21 and 2021-20 study years was the lowest in a decade. The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second between 4 and 6 years of age.
But there has been a decline in other routine childhood vaccinations, too, such as diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP), polio, and chickenpox.
“This is concerning and should be a call to action for all of us,” Sean O’Leary, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases, told reporters Thursday.
All states and the District of Columbia require children to be vaccinated against certain diseases, including measles and rubella, in order to attend public schools, though exemptions are allowed in certain circumstances, including religious or philosophical purposes.
The CDC survey found that although 2.6 percent of kindergarten children had an exemption from at least one vaccine, nearly 4 percent of students who did not have an exemption were unaware of their MMR shots.
The rollback in children’s vaccine coverage follows heated partisan battles over COVID-19 vaccine mandates and a lack of trust in public health authorities, continuing a trend that has roiled health experts and officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said pockets of unvaccinated children within larger areas with high vaccination coverage could lead to outbreaks. Cases of polio have been reported in New York, and an outbreak of measles primarily among unvaccinated children sickened more than 80 children in Ohio in December, sending 30 to the hospital.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the trend of declining vaccinations is due at least in part to disruptions related to the pandemic. Parents have missed or skipped pediatrician visits and are still trying to catch up.
There were also disparity issues. According to a second Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Thursday, children who are poor, live in rural areas, who lack health insurance and who are Black or Hispanic are more likely to not be vaccinated by the time they are two years old.
The CDC found that the percentage of unvaccinated children was 8 times higher among uninsured children than among children with private insurance.
O’Leary noted that the vast majority of parents still vaccinate their children. But the controversy and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine has also spilled over into routine childhood shots.
For example, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey last month found that 35% of parents of children under 18 oppose vaccination requirements in schools, up from 23% in 2019.
“We’ve seen some hesitation with vaccines during the pandemic mostly related to, I think, the COVID vaccine. This can in some cases translate to routine vaccinations and that’s something we’re watching closely,” said Peacock of the CDC.
“What we do know is that the way to influence is for families to have conversations with their trusted doctors, health care providers, about the importance of vaccination.”