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CDC: Kindergarten vaccination rates high last school year, expected to fall

January 21, 2021

About 95% of kindergartners received required vaccines during the 2019-’20 school year, but experts are warning of future declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Schools and immunization programs can work together to ensure that undervaccinated students are caught up on vaccinations in preparation for returning to in-person learning,” researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The team analyzed data collected by state and local immunization programs on children enrolled in public and private kindergarten programs in 48 states. They looked at three required vaccines — diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and varicella.

Data showed vaccination rates of about 95% for each. For two-dose coverage with MMR, rates ranged from 87% in Alabama to 99% in Mississippi. For DTaP, only 84% of kindergartners in Indiana were vaccinated compared to 99% in Mississippi. Rates of required varicella vaccination ranged from 87% in Alabama to 99% in Mississippi.

Nearly 2% of kindergartners did not have proof of complete vaccination or exemption and were attending school under a grace period or they were enrolled while catching up on their vaccines. About 2.5% of kindergartners had an exemption for at least one vaccine, which was not limited to the three in the study. Most of these exemptions were nonmedical. The highest exemption rate was reported in Idaho at 8%.

Looking more closely at MMR vaccination, researchers found 30 states had a decrease in the rate of those who were not up to date and didn’t have an exemption and 26 of those states saw an increase in coverage compared to the previous school year. They attributed the increases to some states eliminating nonmedical exemptions and some experiencing outbreaks that spurred vaccination.

The study highlights Colorado where MMR coverage increased from 87% to 91%, which authors credit to the state prioritizing coverage, providing technical assistance and giving lists of schools with low coverage rates to local public health agencies, which implemented campaigns in those communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely did not have a significant impact on the 2019-’20 vaccination rates because most students were vaccinated at the start of the school year before the pandemic began. However, numerous studies have found vaccination dipped significantly in 2020 as families delayed seeing their pediatrician.

The AAP and CDC have been urging families to get caught up to protect themselves from a host of preventable diseases.

“Jurisdictions should provide resources as appropriate,” according to the report, “such as guidance to parents about the importance of maintaining preventive care during the pandemic, lists of immunization providers in the area for children who are unable to be vaccinated by their usual health care provider, or special vaccination clinics at schools or health departments.”

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