The exemption rate for routine vaccinations among kindergartners has reached a record high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A CDC report released Thursday said 3% of children in kindergarten during the 2022-23 school year were granted a nonmedical vaccine exemption from their state. That rate, an increase from the previous year’s 2.6%, is the highest ever recorded in the U.S.
Forty states and Washington, D.C., all saw increases in nonmedical vaccine exemptions for children between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. In 10 of those states, more than 5% of kindergartners were exempt from at least one vaccine — a massive jump from two states just three years earlier. In Idaho, a staggering 12% of kindergartners had a vaccine exemption.
The increases may spell trouble for children who, without the inoculations, are less protected from dangerous but preventable diseases like measles and polio.
“Exemptions in excess of 5% limit the level of vaccination coverage that can be achieved, which increases the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” the report stated.
The vaccinations required for attending school vary by state, but they normally include inoculations for poliovirus, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella. Earlier this year, the CDC added COVID-19 to the list of recommended immunizations for children.
Public health experts say that populations normally require 95% immunity to properly protect against viral outbreaks, a rate that the U.S. maintained before the COVID-19 pandemic. But according to the CDC report, that rate fell to 94% for kindergartners during the 2020-21 school year, and even lower to 93% the following year.
The rate remained near 93% during the 2022-23 school year, suggesting that the immunity rate for America’s kindergartners has failed to recover since the pandemic. Though the report said it is unclear whether the increase in exemptions necessarily signals a rise in vaccine skepticism, it confirmed that the COVID-19 crisis has impacted immunization rates.
“Whether because of an increase in hesitancy or barriers to vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic affected childhood routine vaccination,” the report said.
“Enforcement of school vaccination requirements, school-based vaccination clinics, reminder and recall systems, and follow-up with undervaccinated students have already been shown to be effective in increasing vaccination coverage,” it added.