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The number of US childhood vaccination exemptions has reached an all-time high.
Science & Health

The number of US childhood vaccination exemptions has reached an all-time high.

According to U.S. health officials, the percentage of kindergartners in the United States who are exempt from school vaccination requirements has reached a record high of 3%.

Experts say that a growing number of parents are now reevaluating routine childhood vaccinations, which they previously accepted without question. This change in attitude is a result of the political divide that has arisen during the pandemic, particularly surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday that despite an increase in exemptions for children, the overall vaccination rate remained consistent at 93% for kindergartners in the 2022-23 school year. This rate is the same as the previous year, but it was higher at 95% before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Colorado, stated that the current trend is concerning as there has been a decline since the pandemic and no signs of improvement. However, he also shared that most parents are still following the recommended vaccination schedule for their children, which is a positive development.

All states and territories in the United States have a requirement for children attending child care centers and schools to receive vaccinations against various diseases, such as measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, 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, the proportion of kindergartners who have been granted medical exemptions has remained consistent at approximately 0.2%. However, there has been a slight increase in the percentage of nonmedical exemptions, resulting in an overall exemption rate rise from 1.6% during the 2011-12 academic year to 3% last year.

FILE - A nurse practitioner prepares a syringe with the Mpox vaccine before inoculating a patient at a vaccinations site in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, Aug. 30, 2022.

The nurse practitioner is getting ready to administer the Mpox vaccine to a patient at a vaccination location in Brooklyn, New York City on August 30, 2022.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximated that in the previous year, over 115,000 children in kindergarten were not required to receive at least one vaccination.

The prices differ throughout the nation.

Ten states, located in the Western and Midwestern regions of the United States, have reported that over 5% of kindergarten students were not required to receive at least one mandated vaccine. Among these states, Idaho had the highest percentage at 12%. In comparison, only 0.1% of kindergarten students in New York received exemptions from required vaccinations.

State laws and policies, as well as local attitudes among families and doctors, can impact vaccination rates by either hindering or facilitating the process of obtaining exemptions.

According to O’Leary, who leads a committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are instances where changes in exemptions can be limited to a specific area and do not represent the entire state.

Hawaii experienced a significant increase, as the exemption rate rose to 6.4%, almost twice the previous year’s rate.

State health department officials stated that the decrease in vaccinations is not a result of any legal or policy modifications. Instead, they have noticed that false or misleading information on social media has influenced individuals’ choices regarding vaccination.

The states of Connecticut and Maine experienced notable decreases, which were linked by CDC officials to recent modifications in policies that increased the difficulty of obtaining exemptions.

Health authorities emphasize the significance of achieving a 95% vaccination rate in order to avoid outbreaks of preventable illnesses, particularly measles, which is highly transmissible.

In 2019, the United States experienced a surge in measles cases due to infected travelers entering communities with low vaccination rates. This resulted in approximately 1,300 reported cases, the highest number in almost three decades. The majority of these cases were concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities with low vaccination rates.

A puzzling contradiction in the report: Despite an increase in exemptions, the national vaccination rate remained constant. How is this possible?

According to CDC officials, the vaccination statistics include three distinct groups of children. The first group consists of those who received all of the required shots. The second group includes those who were granted exemptions. The third group comprises children who did not apply for exemptions but also did not receive all of their shots and complete the necessary paperwork at the time the data was gathered.

According to Shannon Stokley from the CDC, the number of children in the third group likely decreased last year, balancing out the increase in the exemption group.