ARS TECHNICA – For the third consecutive year, kindergartners across the US have fallen short of reaching the protective threshold of 95 percent vaccination coverage.
Vaccine exemptions have reached an all-time high of 3 percent, according to a new study led by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination coverage among US kindergartners hovered around the target of 95 percent.
But amid the health crises, vaccination rates slipped to 94 percent in the 2020–2021 school year, then to 93 percent in the 2021–2022 school year.
For the 2022–2023 school year, overall coverage remained around 93 percent, but exemptions rose to 3 percent, up from 2.6 percent in the previous year.
“The current exemption rate is the highest ever recorded for the country.”
The study, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, included reported data from 49 states and the District of Columbia. Montana did not report vaccination data to the CDC.
Among the exemptions reported, more than 90 percent are nonmedical, meaning children were exempted from lifesaving, routine vaccinations for religious or personal reasons and not medical needs. Nonmedical exemptions accounted for roughly 100 percent of the rise in exemptions over last year.
Most troubling, perhaps, is that the rise in exemptions is occurring nationwide—40 states reported percentage-point increases in exemptions between the 2021–2022 and 2022–2023 school years.
In all, 10 states now have exemption rates above 5 percent, meaning that even if they are able to vaccinate all other non-exempt kindergartners in the state, they will not be able to achieve the 95 percent threshold to protect from the spread of dangerous, vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
In the previous school year, only four states had exemption rates above 5 percent, and in the year before that, there were only two states.
The current vaccination coverage and exemption rates mean that around 250,000 kindergartners in the US are at risk of measles and other severe infections … read more.
BETH MOLE is Ars Technica’s Senior Health Reporter. Beth has a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attended the Science Communication program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She specializes in covering infectious diseases, public health, and microbes.