Continued Declines in Childhood Vaccinations During the Pandemic

Although vaccine rates overall remain high, a new report shows a reduction 2 years in a row, leaving thousands of children not vaccinated against vaccine-preventable viruses.

Over the last 2 school years, the national coverage for childhood state-required vaccines among kindergarten students declined from 95% to approximately 93%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported. During the 2020-21 school year, vaccinations dropped to 94% and during the 2021-22 school year it dropped again to approximately 93%.

This report was in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

And while this does not sound like a large number, it still represents thousands of young children not getting their vaccinations such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It is also a disturbing trend as some people may feel they do not need or are fearful of vaccines.

“Compared with the 2020–21 school year, vaccination coverage decreased 0.4–0.9 percentage points for all vaccines. Although 2.6% of kindergartners had an exemption for at least one vaccine, an additional 3.9% who did not have an exemption were not up to date with MMR,” the investigators wrote in the MMWR.

This is the lowest rate of vaccination in over a decade the CDC states. And the report says that as many as 250,000 kindergartners are not protected against measles.

Again, long-time vaccinations in public health has nearly decimated polio incidence rates as well as other once common childhood illnesses such as measles.

Going unvaccinated can have real consequences.

There was a report of single case of polio in New York State last year in an unvaccinated 20 year old man who contracted the virus. The person is said to have suffered paralysis. And it was the first case of community transmitted poliovirus in the US since 1979, and since the World Health Organization Region of the Americas was declared polio-free in 1994.

And there has been an ongoing measles outbreak reported in central Ohio since last fall. As of two weeks ago, the outbreak has seen 82 pediatric cases since November, and more than a third of children infected have been hospitalized. Of the infected children, 74 were unvaccinated, 4 were partially vaccinated (single dose), and 4 with unknown vaccine status. None of the patient cases were fully vaccinated.

“Although there has been a nearly complete return to in-person learning after COVID-19 pandemic-associated disruptions, immunization programs continued to report COVID-19–related impacts on vaccination assessment and coverage,” the authors wrote.

And while COVID-19 and the disruption of services takes a lot of the responsibility for this vaccination decrease, vaccine misinformation has been an additional, ongoing problem. Unfounded or incorrect information is spread across various mediums including websites, podcasts, and social media, and has prevented some families from getting their kids immunized.

The CDC says continued efforts to get children vaccinated remains significant. “Follow-up with undervaccinated students and catch-up campaigns remain important for increasing vaccination coverage to prepandemic levels to protect children and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases,” the investigators wrote.

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