More than a quarter million kindergartners are entering school without their recommended childhood vaccines – and the number of kids with vaccine exemptions has hit a high.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows national coverage for all vaccines remained near 93 percent – falling short of the 95 percent recorded in the pre-pandemic 2019-2020 school year – meaning about 268,000 kindergartners are unvaccinated.
Additionally, for the 2022-2023 school year three percent of kindergartners had a vaccine exemption from one or more required vaccines – an increase from 2.6 percent during the 2021-2022 school year and the highest the US has ever recorded.
Childhood vaccinations for kindergarten include those to protect against chicken pox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis – whopping cough.
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For the 2022-2023 school year three percent of kindergartners had a vaccine exemption from one or more required vaccines. This is an increase from 2.6 percent during the 2021-2022 school year and the highest the US has ever recorded
The above map shows the state by state rates of vaccination exemptions for the 2022-2023 school year, highlighting the top five states with the highest percentages of exemptions
The states with the highest percentage of kindergartners with vaccine exemptions are unchanged from last year, and remain Idaho (12.5 percent), Utah (8.1 percent), Arizona (7.4 percent), Wisconsin (7.2 percent) and Oregon (seven percent).
Each state has different guidelines for vaccine requirements and exemptions. While some require all vaccines for kindergarten admission, others may only require a handful at the time, postponing others to future grades.
When getting vaccine exemptions, there are two types: medical and non-medical.
The percentage of medical exemptions, which are allowed when a child has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving a vaccine, has remained mostly consistent over the last 12 school years.
It was 0.2 percent for the 2022-2023 school year, a number unchanged from last year.
Non-medical exemptions include those based on religious or philosophical beliefs.
Only a handful of states do not allow these types of exemptions, including New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia.
For the most recent school year, the percentage of children claiming this type of exemption increased from 2.3 percent in 2021-2022 to 2.8 percent.
While a small change in percentage may not seem significant, it translates to thousands of children who could be made vulnerable to deadly diseases, putting herd immunity at risk, which can lead to outbreaks of previously eradicated diseases.
Vaccine exemptions can be for one, multiple or all required childhood vaccines. While rules differ state by state, in most cases, parents must receive documentation from a medical doctor stating a child should be exempt from vaccinations.
The exemptions are then reviewed and granted by the child’s school.
However, as the antivax movement has grown, so has the number of people applying for fake exemptions, with some willing to pay off doctors to make up medical excuses in order to get their child out of having to be vaccinated.
In some states, legislators are cracking down on the practice, even proposing legislation to stop fake exemptions.
In 2019, California State Sen. Richard Pan made a case for a proposed bill that would require the state health department to review all medical exemptions and either approve or deny them. The bill also created a database to track doctors issuing an unusually high number of exemptions.
It passed in September 2019.
Experts have partly attributed the decline of vaccination rates in the US to Covid-19.
While the Covid vaccine is not required for children attending schools in the US, it is believed to be a contributing factor in the rise of vaccine hesitancy.
In the school year following the release of Covid vaccines, more parents were claiming vaccine exemptions: 2.6 percent in 2021-2022, compared to 2.2 percent in 2020-2021.
America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci admitted Covid vaccine policies were ‘counterproductive’ and turned vaccine skeptics off of vaccinations rather than gain their favor.
Earlier this year, he told The New York Times: ‘Man, I think, almost paradoxically, you had people who were on the fence about getting vaccinated thinking, why are they forcing me to do this?
‘And that sometimes-beautiful independent streak in our country becomes counterproductive. And you have that smoldering anti-science feeling, a divisiveness that’s palpable politically in this country’.
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