Vaccination rates for kindergarten students are declining. Here’s why doctors say this is “really bad news.”

Children's chair and desk with letters in the classroom.

Vaccination rates for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. (Getty Images)

Child vaccination rates have declined for the third year in a row, according to a new report from the Department of Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report found that 93% of kindergarten children received the vaccines required by the state during the 2021-2022 school year, down two percentage points from the 2019-2020 school year. During the 2020-2021 school year, 94% of kindergartens received the required vaccinations, which indicates a gradual downward trend in routine immunizations for children.

Overall, 2.6% of children were exempt from vaccinations last year, and Measles vaccination coverageThe mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the lowest in a decade. Coverage of diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP), polio, and varicella vaccines has also decreased in most states.

“It’s very frustrating,” Dr.. Daniel FisherJohn’s Health Center in California, according to Yahoo Life. “We’ve come a long way with childhood vaccines, and now people are afraid of vaccines being reawakened.”

Dr.. Juan SalazarMD, Connecticut Children’s GP, told Yahoo Life this was “really bad news” and “very disturbing.”

There’s a lot to unpack about this decline in childhood vaccines. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the reason for the decline in vaccines?

Experts say there are a few potential factors at play. “During the first year of the pandemic, childcare visits dropped dramatically, and it started this downward trend in immunization rates,” she said. Dr. Michael Bauera pediatrician and medical director at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, told Yahoo Live.

At the same time, the pandemic has become politicized and encouraged “a concurrent rise in public health policies that have become suspicious and distrustful of government decisions — leading to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment,” Bauer says.

“This anti-vaccination noise has kept parents from avoiding not only COVID vaccinations, but other vaccines as well.” Dr. Thomas Russo, chair of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Yahoo Live. Fisher agrees. “Misinformation about the COVID vaccine has led to distrust of vaccines in general,” she says, adding that these routine immunizations for children are “tried and true” that have been in use for decades. “It’s very sad that a segment of the population is buying into this misinformation and not protecting their children,” says Fisher.

Besides the mistrust, Bauer notes, “an increasing number of states are enacting laws that allow parents to refuse to vaccinate their children regardless of medical reasons.” “Countries with the most stringent laws have the highest rates of vaccine compliance,” he adds.

What are the health implications of a small drop in vaccine rates?

Salazar says both unvaccinated children and those around them can be susceptible to the disease. quotes Recent outbreak of measles in Ohio — which most affected unvaccinated children — as an example of what can happen when vaccination rates start to drop.

“Even small decreases in vaccination rates can lead to large increases in these preventable diseases, as evidenced by recent measles outbreaks, which are highly preventable,” Bauer says.

“We know these vaccines work,” Salazar says. “You bring one of these transmissible viruses into a school or daycare and it will spread.” Of particular concern, Salazar says, are younger children in daycare or younger siblings of older children who are too young to be partially or fully vaccinated against certain diseases like measles, which are highly contagious. “These young children are likely to get very sick and die,” he says. “Your poor or ill-informed choice will affect the child whose family has been doing everything right but who has not yet been vaccinated because of his advanced age.”

What happens if vaccination rates continue to drop?

Child vaccination rates have been dropping steadily for years, and doctors say that’s concerning. “If this trend continues, we will come back a lot with certain diseases like measles and maybe even polio,” Russo says. “We’re going to see a resurgence of childhood infections that didn’t really exist before that. If someone gets infected, it will take off.”

Salazar says he worries that “we’re going back to a time when measles caused an outbreak of disease and death.” He also says he is worried that “chickenpox will return with complications,” noting that “we have to go back to understanding the meaning of whooping cough, measles, and complex chicken pox. People have forgotten, and that’s bad.”

Fisher urges parents to vaccinate their children on time. “This is not a joke,” she says. “Your child’s life depends on it.”

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