250,000 children in kindergartens are at risk due to the drop in vaccination rates
Nearly a quarter of a million kindergartners are vulnerable to measles because of a drop in vaccination coverage during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC found in a report released Thursday that 93% of kindergartners received state-required vaccines during the 2021-22 school year, a 2% drop from 2019-20.
“While this may not sound significant, this means that nearly 250,000 children in kindergarten are potentially not protected against measles,” said Dr. Georgina Peacock, chief of the CDC’s Division of Immunization Services, during a call with reporters Thursday.
“And we know that measles, mumps and rubella vaccination coverage for kindergarten children is the lowest it’s been in more than a decade,” Peacock said.
Kindergartens are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella; chicken pox; polio; and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella was 93.5% during the 2021-22 school year, which is below the target coverage of 95% to prevent outbreaks.
An ongoing measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio has spread to 83 children, 33 of whom have been hospitalized. None of the children died. The vast majority of children, 78 of them, were not vaccinated.
“These outbreaks harm children and cause significant disruptions in their opportunities to learn, grow and thrive,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases. “This is alarming and should be a call to action for all of us.”
The CDC report examined whether children in kindergarten received a second dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Two doses are 97% effective in preventing the disease, and one dose is about 93% effective, according to the CDC.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads when someone coughs or rains and pollutes the air, where the virus can linger for up to two hours. It can also be spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
The virus is so contagious that one person can spread the virus to 90% of people close to them who have no immunity through vaccination or previous infection, according to the CDC.
Measles can be dangerous for children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 20, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people who get it are hospitalized. About 1 in 20 children get pneumonia, and 1 in 1,000 have brain swelling that can cause disability. Symptoms begin with high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. Two to three days later, white spots appear in the mouth, and a rash breaks out on the body.
CDC officials said disruptions to schools and the health care system during the Covid pandemic were largely responsible for the drop in vaccination rates.
“We know that the pandemic has really disrupted health care systems,” Peacock said. “Part of it is that well-child visits may have been missed and people are still trying to make up for those well-child visits.”
“We know that schools had a lot of things to focus on and in some cases they may not have been able to collect all of that immunization documentation,” Peacock said. “Or because the kids were at home for most of the pandemic, it may not have been an emphasis while they were focused on testing and doing all the other things related to the pandemic.”
In a separate report released Thursday, the CDC found that coverage for what’s known as a combination series of seven vaccines actually increased slightly among children born in 2018-19. by the time they turn two, compared to children born in 2016-17.
This series of seven vaccines includes vaccines against measles, chicken pox, polio, hepatitis B, streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae or Hib, and diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
However, the CDC found that there are large income and racial disparities. Vaccination has decreased by up to 5% during the pandemic for those living below the poverty level or in rural areas. Black and Hispanic children had lower vaccination rates than white children.
O’Leary said that while misinformation about vaccines is a problem, the vast majority of parents still vaccinate their children. He said inequality is a bigger problem.
“The things we really need to focus on are access and child poverty,” O’Leary said.