Too Few Kids Are Getting Recommended Vaccines, CDC Warns

Vaccinations among kindergarteners declined for the second year in a row, leaving hundreds of thousands of young children vulnerable to dangerous infectious diseases, U.S. health officials reported in January.

About 93% of kindergarteners had their required vaccinations during the 2021-2022 school year, including the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, polio and chickenpox vaccines, according to a new study published Jan. 13 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s down from 94% nationwide during the 2020-2021 school year and 95% for the 2019-2020 school year, the report found.

“While this might not sound significant, it means nearly 250,000 kindergartners are potentially not protected against measles alone,” physician Georgina Peacock, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, said during a media briefing on the findings. “And we know that measles, mumps and rubella vaccination coverage for kindergartners is the lowest it has been in over a decade.”

About 2.6% of kindergarteners had an exemption for one or more required vaccine, compared with 2.2% for the previous school year. Of those 2021-2022 exemptions, 2.3% were for non-medical reasons, the results showed.

The exemption numbers are “encouraging” in that they have remained low despite controversy and misinformation related to vaccines, physician Sean O’Leary, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases, said during the briefing.

While the numbers for kindergarteners are concerning, another MMWR report detailing vaccinations among toddlers born in 2018 and 2019 offered some degree of hope.

That study found that vaccination coverage among 24-month-olds remains strong, “and even increased among children born in 2018 and 2019, compared to those born in 2016 and 2017,” Peacock said.

More than 90% of toddlers had gotten the MMR, polio, hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccines, the study authors reported.

However, the researchers found disparities in vaccine coverage among toddlers based on location, income and insurance coverage, Peacock added.

“The report found that coverage with the combined seven-vaccine series for children living below poverty or in rural areas decreased by 4 to 5 percentage points during the pandemic,” Peacock said. “The report also found the percentage of uninsured children not vaccinated by their second birthday was eight times that of privately insured children.”

Gaps in vaccine coverage lead to “entirely preventable” outbreaks, O’Leary said, such as two measles outbreaks reported in U.S. communities last year and a case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated person in New York.

“These outbreaks harm children and cause significant disruptions in their opportunities to learn, grow and thrive,” O’Leary added.