The proportion of U.S. kindergarteners vaccinated against diseases like measles, mumps and tetanus decreased by about one percentage point during the 2020-2021 school year, as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted school enrollment and vaccination requirements were loosened to accommodate remote learning, according to a study published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mandatory vaccine coverage among kindergarten students declined from about 95% during 2019-2020 to about 94% during 2020-2021, according to the CDC’s analysis of data from state and local immunization programs in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
During that period, coverage for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine fell from 95.2% to 93.9%, coverage for the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine fell from 94.9% to 93.6% and coverage for the varicella vaccine fell from 94.8% to 93.6%.
This decline in vaccine coverage was not caused by a rise in child vaccine exemptions, which may be issued for religious or philosophical reasons or if the child has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving vaccines—the proportion of kindergarteners with vaccine exemptions fell from the already low level of 2.5% in 2019-2020 to 2.2% in 2020-2021.
The proportion of kindergarteners who fell behind on MMR vaccination or did not enroll with proper documentation for the shot rose from 2.3% in 2019-2020 to 3.9% in 2020-2021, indicating that the overall decrease in vaccine coverage may be due in part to a disruption of vaccination and enrollment processes caused by the pandemic, researchers said.
Mandatory vaccine coverage among kindergarteners varied significantly from area to area, with New York state coming in first with 98.1% coverage and the District of Columbia coming in last with 78.5% coverage.
However, researchers identified some broad trends across the U.S.—coverage for MMR, DTaP and varicella vaccines fell in a majority of states, as did the proportion of children with vaccine exemptions and the overall number of children who enrolled in kindergarten.
The Covid-19 pandemic complicated efforts to measure and report kindergarten vaccination rates during 2020-2021. During the school year, schools loosened enrollment guidelines, parents submitted less vaccine documentation, nurses had less time to follow up with parents about missing documentation and there were fewer staff members available to gather and report vaccination rate data, the authors of Thursday’s CDC study said. Researchers recommended that schools and public health organizations follow up with unvaccinated students to help return MMR, TDaP and varicella vaccine coverage to pre-pandemic levels.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that causes symptoms ranging from fever and rash to potentially deadly brain swelling. Mumps is a virus that causes symptoms like fever and headache, and can sometimes lead to complications like organ inflammation. Rubella is a virus that causes symptoms like rash and fever and often leads to arthritis in adult women. Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacterial disease that clogs the throat with dead tissue and can inflict severe heart and nerve damage. Tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes jaw muscle spasms popularly known as “lockjaw,” and can cause fatal breathing difficulty. Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a bacterial disease that causes coughing fits and can be dangerous for infants. Varicella, also called chickenpox, is a highly contagious virus that causes symptoms like rash and fever and can lead to serious complications like brain swelling.
“87% Of Kids Hospitalized With Covid During Omicron Wave Were Unvaccinated, CDC Says” (Forbes)