(CTN News) – The percentage of US children receiving essential childhood vaccines remains below the target required to protect them from deadly illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons reached an all-time high in 2022–2023, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk and setting the stage for the reemergence of deadly childhood diseases.
In most states, vaccination coverage for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis-containing (DTP3) vaccine, and poliovirus vaccine fell from 95% in 2019–2020 to 92.7% for DTP3 and 93.1% for MMR and polio.
According to the CDC, vaccine exemption rates increased by 0.4 percentage points to 3.0%. More than 5% of states have increased vaccine exemption rates. Disease outbreaks are more likely to occur when vaccine coverage falls below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization, leaving young children at risk.
In high-income countries, many of these diseases no longer pose a public health problem, which may contribute to vaccination complacency.
Nevertheless, people in low- and middle-income countries are well aware of the consequences of not vaccinating their children, since they either don’t have access to health facilities or have insufficient resources to run regular vaccination programs.
Measles, for instance, can cause inflammation of the brain and pneumonia, and even those who survive can lose their sight. Every year, 160,000 babies die from pertussis, or whooping cough. There is a possibility of heart, kidney, and nerve damage occurring as a result of diphtheria. The chances of dying from this disease are one out of ten, even when it is treated.
As immunization rates decline, diseases that were eradicated long ago are reemerging. Despite eliminating measles in 2000, almost 1,300 cases were reported in 31 states in 2019 – the highest number since 1992. As cases spiked in 2018, the UK lost its measles-elimination status. The percentage of children receiving a second dose of a vaccine containing measles was 87% in 2022.
A growing number of high-income countries, including the United States, are experiencing vaccine hesitancy. Only 0.2% of the 3.0% of kindergartners with exemptions had medical reasons for their exemption.
Exemptions are being tightened in some states. During the 2019 measles outbreak, New York eliminated the religious exemption to vaccine requirements.
Schools and providers should ensure students are vaccinated before entering school, such as during the enrolment process several months before school starts, according to the CDC.
The report says, “Students can attend school while on a catch-up schedule during provisional enrollment periods that allow them to fully vaccinate them and prevent nonmedical exemptions as a result of lingering undervaccination caused by barriers to vaccination resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as reduced access to vaccination appointments.”
In 2012, infectious disease epidemiologist Saad Omer found that legislation limiting parents’ options for exemptions could lower opt-out rates.
Dean of the Peter O-Donnell Jr. Department of Public Health at UT Southwestern in Dallas, stated, “It is common sense to have the balance of convenience in favor of vaccination rather than exemption. Although it doesn’t take anyone’s liberty to seek an exemption, it does make the process a bit more challenging for them.”