Annually, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes reports on vaccine coverage in the country. This year, they produced two reports – one describing vaccine coverage for children 19-35 months old, and a second one discussing vaccination coverage for children entering kindergarten.
Although vaccine coverage remains quite high across most vaccines and hasn’t changed much over the past few years, there is a bit of troubling news. A tiny, but increasing number of children in the country are not getting some or all of their recommended vaccines as a result of parental refusal to vaccinate their children. In fact, the percentage of children under 2 years old who have received none of the recommended vaccines has quadrupled since 2001.
Vaccine coverage – 19-35 months old
The first study by Holly A Hill, MD Ph.D. et al., published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, examine vaccine coverage for Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended vaccines in children born in 2015.
For some of the vaccines, the vaccination coverage exceeded 90%:
- 92.7% polio vaccine coverage (≥3 doses)
- 91.5% MMR (for mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccine coverage (≥1 dose)
- 91.0% varicella (chickenpox) vaccine coverage (≥1 dose)
Unfortunately, for some ACIP-recommended vaccines, the coverage lagged:
- 59.7% hepatitis A vaccine coverage (≥2 doses)
- 73.2% rotavirus vaccine coverage
- 73.6% hepatitis B vaccine coverage (at birth)
- 83.2% DTaP (for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) vaccine coverage (≥4 doses)
There are a few key observations about this data. First, despite the false claims about the MMR vaccine being linked to autism, the vaccine coverage for MMR remains at historically high levels. On the other hand, hepatitis B vaccine coverage, especially at birth, is too low, despite that the fact that these vaccines are important for cancer prevention.
Vaccine coverage by state also showed some interesting information – Massachusetts has the highest vaccination rates for children born in 2015 of all states. The City of New York, considered a “state” for the purposes of this study, had the lowest rate.
However, it is troubling that, even though the proportion of children who received no vaccines by age 24 months, it has increased from 0.3% for children born in 2001 to 0.9% for children born in 2011 to 1.3% for children born in 2015. This works out to be over 100,000 children born in 2015 who aren’t vaccinated against 14 dangerous and deadly diseases. This is worrisome.
Although I do not want to give credit to the anti-vaccine religion for causing this troubling increase in vaccine refusal. The internet is filled with ignorant and scientifically inaccurate information about vaccines. Quora, where individuals can ask questions about almost anything, is filled with individuals asking questions about vaccines in good faith. Although 95% of the answers are scientifically and medically accurate, there are many individuals who use misinformation, ignorance, and outright lies to scare people about vaccines.
Eventually, this can lead to the point, where the overall vaccine coverage will drop below the level to maintain the herd effect. At that point, there are insufficient numbers of immunized people to block the spread of an outbreak or epidemic of these vaccine-preventable diseases.
On the other hand, the study points out that part of the lack of vaccination may be a result of an ongoing issue with the USA – the lack of universal health insurance, especially for the poor. This study showed that 17.2% of unvaccinated children were uninsured compared to 2.8% of all children. Looking at the data from another direction, over 7% of uninsured children were unvaccinated compared to only 1.0% of children on Medicaid and 0.8% of children on private health insurance.
This is one of the great moral failings of the country. However, there really are no reasons why any child in the USA is denied vaccines. The Vaccines for Children Program provides free vaccines for all children in the USA who otherwise have no insurance coverage. The program has saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the past 20 years.
Vaccine coverage – kindergartners
A second report, by Jenelle L Mellerson et al. and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, examined vaccine coverage for children entering kindergarten in 2017. The good news is that, despite somewhat lower vaccination rates in states like DC, Idaho, and Colorado, the overall vaccine coverage for the major vaccines is well over 90% for kindergartners.
The researchers found that the exemption rate was low, about 2.2%. Unfortunately, it was the third consecutive school year that a slight increase noted. The 2.2% exemption rate during the 2017-18 school year was up from 2.0% in 2016-17, and 1.9% in 2015-16.
The study does not provide a breakdown between medical (where there is a valid medical reason to not vaccinate a child with one or more vaccines) and non-medical exemptions. The non-medical exemptions, often called “personal belief” exemptions are simply refusing to vaccinate a child because of a variety of reasons – religious (no religion is opposed to vaccines) or because “we don’t like vaccines.” Most exemptions are of the non-medical variety.
Only a few states disallow these personal belief exemptions – California, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Unsurprisingly, California and Mississippi have the lowest non-medical exemption rates in the USA, at less than 0.1%. Unfortunately, California has an issue where unethical physicians are giving out (or even selling) non-medical exemptions for parents who want to put their children in danger of vaccine-preventable diseases.
These two studies show us two dangerous trends – first, too many very young children are going unvaccinated because of parental ignorance or lack of health insurance. And second, too many parents are putting their children at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases by requesting non-medical exemptions.
However, despite the pseudoscientific lies of the hysterical anti-vaccine religion, nearly 95% of children are vaccinated before they enter school. Unlike the anti-vaccine zealots, who seem to dismiss a few thousand cases of cancer or deaths from measles as unimportant or trivial, most of us on the pro-science side of vaccines want all children protected from dangerous and deadly diseases. That’s why we fight to make sure every single child is vaccinated.
Why aren’t you making sure that your children are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases?
- Hill HA, Elam-Evans LD, Yankey D, Singleton JA, Kang Y. Vaccination Coverage Among Children Aged 19-35 Months – United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Oct 12;67(40):1123-1128. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6740a4. PubMed PMID: 30307907.
- Mellerson JL, Maxwell CB, Knighton CL, Kriss JL, Seither R, Black CL. Vaccination Coverage for Selected Vaccines and Exemption Rates Among Children in Kindergarten – United States, 2017-18 School Year. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018 Oct 12;67(40):1115-1122. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6740a3. PubMed PMID: 30307904.
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