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Routine Childhood Vaccinations Dropped 1% During Pandemic

The vaccination rate among kindergartners fell to around 94% during the 2020-21 school year, a drop of about 1% from the previous school year, the CDC said Thursday.

Nationally, 93.9% of children received two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR); 93.6% received the state-required number of doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP); and 93.6% received the state-required doses of varicella vaccine, the CDC said. The exemption rate remained low, at 2.2%.

“Compared with the 2019-20 school year, vaccination coverage decreased by approximately one percentage point for all vaccines,” the CDC said.

The decrease in vaccinations occurred because COVID-19 disrupted American life, the CDC said. School and kindergarten enrollment fell, some schools didn’t report data to state immunization programs, and some parents delayed or skipped kindergarten and routine well-baby visits.

"Today's findings support previous data showing a concerning decline in childhood immunizations that began in March 2020," said Shannon Stokley, DrPH, deputy director of the CDC's Immunization Services Division, according to CNN.

"We are concerned that missed routine vaccinations could leave children vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, which are extremely contagious and can be very serious, especially for babies and young children."

The vaccination rates differed among states. The New York Times noted that Maryland had a 10% drop in MMR vaccine coverage, while Wisconsin, Georgia, Wyoming, and Kentucky had declines of about 5%. Idaho had 86.5% coverage on MMR for the 2020-21 school year, among the lowest rates.

Distrust about COVID vaccines also affected parents’ feelings about childhood vaccines, one health expert said.

“There’s a greater proportion of parents who are questioning routine vaccines,” Jason V. Terk, MD, a Texas pediatrician who also acts as a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics,told the Times. He said misinformation “fed the fire of distrust and skepticism that is really sort of the new pandemic of hesitancy for routine vaccines.”

The CDC said schools and immunization programs could close the vaccination gap with outreach programs to unvaccinated kindergartners and first-grade students.

“Schools and immunization programs can increase follow-up with undervaccinated students to reduce the impact of COVID-19-associated disruptions on vaccination coverage to protect students during the return to in-person learning,” it said.