With recent news reports of measles outbreaks in schools and child flu deaths, it could appear as though a large percentage of the population is forgoing vaccinations. Yet, reports from state and national organizations reveal vaccination coverage remains high among children.
Strong rates of child vaccination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a seven-vaccine series for children 19 to 35 months. According to the agency, a four-year study showed that completion rates of that series rose from 69% of children born in 2010 to 77% of children born in 2013. More recently, a CDC report that likely included many of the same children found that average national kindergarten vaccination coverage was almost 95% for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP); and varicella (chickenpox) during the 2017-2018 school year.
Additionally, the same CDC report revealed that the number of states with vaccination coverage that exceeded the 95% national average increased from the previous school year. Essentially, more schools with better rates. These numbers are high, according to the agency, but it also asserts that almost all states could achieve a 95% vaccination coverage rate, or higher if children are vaccinated in accordance with its recommendations.
Vaccination rates vary state-by-state
Though all states require children to follow the CDC-recommended immunization schedule to attend school, childhood vaccination coverage and exemptions vary state-by-state, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. The organization outlines that 19 states allow exemptions on religious, medical, and philosophical grounds, and an additional 28 states and the District of Columbia allow medical and religious exemptions. Still, the CDC reports that national exemption rates remain low, at a median of 2.2%.
In an effort to further improve vaccination rates, some states have begun to make changes to their immunization and exemption programs. As of 2019, California, West Virginia, and Mississippi only allow medical exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Education changed its provisional enrollment period— the time parents are allotted to update their children’s vaccination records — from 240 days to 5 days. Following that change, Pennsylvania reported a drop in kindergartners enrolled provisionally from 8% in the 2016 school year to 2.1% in the 2017 school year.
The pursuit to improve vaccination rates
Childhood vaccination rates remain high in the United States, yet sustaining and increasing these rates requires continuous collaboration between the government, providers, patients, and parents.
A study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Disease found that state policies that refer to the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations were associated with 3.5% and 2.8% increases in MMR and DTaP vaccination rates. Parental education led by state health departments was also associated with 5.1% and 4.5% increases in those respective vaccination rates.
Despite news and public discourse, providers should be encouraged by upward-trending immunization rates to continue advocating for vaccines among patients. Collaboration between providers and health agencies improves vaccination uptake among children, ensuring that the youngest among us are set up a healthy and bright future.