According to U.S. health officials, the percentage of kindergarten students in the United States who are not required to be vaccinated has reached a record high of 3%.
Experts say that as a result of the political divide caused by the pandemic, more parents are now questioning routine childhood vaccinations that they were previously accepting without hesitation.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national vaccination rate for kindergartners remained unchanged at 93% for the 2022-2023 school year, despite an increase in exemptions. This rate is consistent with the previous year, but it was higher at 95% before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Sean O’Leary, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado, stated that there is unfortunate news that vaccination rates have decreased since the pandemic and have yet to recover. However, he also mentioned that the majority of parents are still adhering to the recommended vaccination schedule for their children, which is a positive development.
All states and territories within the United States have a mandate that children enrolled in child care centers and schools must receive vaccinations for various diseases, such as measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, pertussis, and chickenpox.
All states allow exemptions for children with medical conditions that prevents them from receiving certain vaccines. And most also permit exemptions for religious or other nonmedical reasons.
Over the past ten years, there has been a consistent rate of 0.2% of kindergartners with medical exemptions. However, there has been a slight increase in the percentage of non-medical exemptions, leading to an overall exemption rate of 3% in the last school year, up from 1.6% in 2011-2012.
The CDC estimated that over 115,000 kindergartners were not required to receive at least one vaccine last year.
The prices differ throughout the nation.
Ten states in the Western and Midwestern regions of the United States had reported that over 5% of their kindergarten students were granted exemptions from at least one mandatory vaccine. Among these states, Idaho had the highest percentage of exemptions at 12%, while New York had the lowest at 0.1%.
Local laws and policies, as well as societal beliefs among families and medical professionals, can impact the accessibility of exemptions and the overall rate of vaccinations for children.
According to O’Leary, who leads a committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are instances where changes in exemptions are limited to a specific area rather than representing an entire state.
The state of Hawaii experienced a significant increase, as their exemption rate rose to 6.4%, almost twice as high as the previous year.
State health department officials stated that the decrease in people choosing to get vaccinated is not a result of any legal or policy alterations. Instead, they have noticed that misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms are influencing individuals’ decisions.
The states of Connecticut and Maine experienced notable decreases, which were attributed by CDC officials to recent alterations in policies that increased difficulty in obtaining exemptions.
Officials in the healthcare field stress the significance of achieving a 95% vaccination rate in order to avoid potential outbreaks of preventable illnesses, particularly measles, which is highly transmissible.
In 2019, there were significant outbreaks of measles in the U.S. due to infected travelers visiting communities with low rates of vaccination. This resulted in approximately 1,300 reported cases, the highest number in almost three decades. The majority of these cases were within Orthodox Jewish communities that had low vaccination rates.
The report presents a puzzling contradiction: Despite an increase in exemptions, the national vaccination rate remained constant. How is this possible?
According to CDC officials, the vaccination statistics include three categories of children. The first group consists of those who receive all the required shots. The second group comprises of those who are exempted from vaccinations. The third group includes children who did not seek exemptions but also did not complete all their shots and paperwork at the time the data was gathered.
“According to Shannon Stokley from the CDC, it is likely that the number of children in the third group decreased last year, which balanced out the increase in the exemption group.”
The AP Health and Science Department is backed by the Science and Educational Media Group of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP bears full responsibility for all of its content.