The anti-vaccination movement has made unfortunate progress in the U.S. in the recent years, as evidenced by federal health data released last week, which shows the percentage of American children under two years of age who are unvaccinated has quadrupled in the last 17 years.
> Overall, immunization rates remain high and haven’t changed much at the national level. But a pair of reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about immunizations for preschoolers and kindergartners highlights a growing concern among health officials and clinicians about children who aren’t getting the necessary protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and other pediatric infectious diseases.
> The vast majority of parents across the country vaccinate their children and follow recommended schedules for this basic preventive practice. But the recent upswing in vaccine skepticism and outright refusal to vaccinate has spawned communities of under-vaccinated children who are more susceptible to disease and pose health risks to the broader public.
In 2001, just 0.3 percent of 19- to 35-month-old children were unvaccinated, and by 2011, that number had climbed to 0.9 percent.
Of those born in 2015, 1.3 percent had not received any recommended vaccinations.
> Assuming the same proportion of children born in 2016 didn’t get any vaccinations, about 100,000 children who are now younger than 2 aren’t vaccinated against 14 potentially serious illnesses, said Amanda Cohn, a pediatrician and the CDC’s senior adviser for vaccines. Even though that figure is a tiny fraction of the estimated 8 million children born in the past two years who are getting vaccinated, the trend has officials worried.
> “This is something we’re definitely concerned about,” Cohn said. “We know there are parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids . . . there may be parents who want to and aren’t able to” get their children immunized.
The inability to have children vaccinated is particularly relevant in America’s rural communities, where about 2 percent of those aged 19 months to 35 months are unvaccinated — double the percentage of their urban peers.
> The new data shows health insurance plays a significant role, as well. About 7 percent of uninsured children in this age group were not vaccinated in 2017, compared with 0.8 percent of privately insured children and 1 percent of those covered by Medicaid.
> Those differences are concerning because uninsured and Medicaid-insured children are eligible for free immunizations under the federally funded Vaccines for Childrenprogram.
> “Parents may not be aware of this, so this may be an education issue,” Cohn said.
The vaccination issue that has received the bulk of attention in recent years is that of parents foregoing vaccination for non-medical reasons — the anti-vaccination movement, fueled largely by shoddy science and public fears.
> A second report on vaccination coverage for children entering kindergarten in 2017 also showed a gradual increase in the percentage who were exempted from immunization requirements. (The exemptions do not distinguish between one vaccine vs. all vaccines.)
> All but a handful of states allow parents to opt their children out of school immunization requirements for nonmedical reasons, providing exemptions for religious or philosophical beliefs.
> The overall percentage of children with an exemption was low — 2.2 percent. But the report noted that “this was the third consecutive school year that a slight increase was observed.” The report does not provide a breakdown, but the majority of exemptions are nonmedical, according to data reported by the states.
An analysis conducted by Saad Omer, a professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University, a few years ago showed that the rate of non-medical exemptions had plateaued by the 2015-2016 school year after increasing for many years, The Times noted.
But that trend appears to have reversed, according to the CDC data.
> “It seems that in recent years, exemptions are going up, and the trend is likely due to parents refusing to vaccinate,” he said.
> In the 2017-2018 school year, 2.2 percent of U.S. kindergartners were exempted from one or more vaccines, up from 2 percent in the 2016-2017 school year and from 1.9 percent in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the CDC report.