The share of children who are ‘exempt’ from having their school vaccinations is rising as antivax anxiety grips American parents.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows for the 2021-2022 school year, 2.6 percent of kindergarteners in the US had a vaccine exemption, an increase from 2.2 percent for the prior school year.
And non-medical exemptions, those based on a parent’s religious or philosophical beliefs, are mainly behind the rise. For the 2021-2022 school year, 2.3 percent of kindergarteners with any exemption had a non-medical exemption. This share is an increase from the prior school year, when 1.9 percent had non-medical exemptions.
When it comes to medical exemptions, which are allowed when a child has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving a vaccine, that percentage has remained mostly consistent over the last 11 school years.
For the 2021-2022 school year, just 0.2 percent of kindergarteners had a medical exemption.
Childhood vaccinations for kindergarten include those to protect against chicken pox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or whopping cough.
The above graph shows the trend in overall vaccination exemptions, medical exemptions and non medical exemptions over the last 11 school years
The above map shows the state by state rates of vaccination exemptions for the 2021-2022 school year, highlighting the top five states with the highest percentages of exemptions
The top five states with the highest median kindergartener vaccination exemption rates are Idaho (9.8 percent), Utah (7.4 percent), Oregon (7 percent), Arizona (6.8 percent) and Wisconsin (6.3 percent).
The states with the lowest percentages of vaccine exemptions are Mississippi, New York and West Virginia, all tied at 0.1 percent. California has a rate of 0.2 percent and Washington, DC has a rate of 0.5 percent.
A school year is measured from August to June the following year.
Each state has different guidelines when it comes to vaccination requirements for schools and exemption guidelines. Exemptions fall into two categories: medical and non-medical.
Only a handful of states do not allow both religious or philosophical exemptions, including New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia
Exemptions can be from one, multiple or all required childhood vaccines. While rules differ state by state, in most cases, parents must receive documentation from a medical doctor stating a child should be exempt from vaccinations. The exemptions are then reviewed and granted by the child’s school.
However, as the antivax movement has grown, so has the number of people applying for fake exemptions. Some are even willing to pay off doctors to make up bogus medical excuses in order to get their child out of having to be vaccinated.
And while a change of one or half a percentage point may not seem significant, it translates to thousands of children who could be made vulnerable to deadly diseases, putting herd immunity to these diseases at risk.
Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection that applies to contagious diseases. It’s reached when a sufficient percentage of the population has become immune to a disease either from vaccination or previous infection.
A decline in herd immunity can lead to outbreaks of previously eradicated diseases.
Experts have partly attributed the decline of vaccination rates in the US to Covid-19. And while the Covid vaccine is not required for children attending schools in the US, it is believed to be a contributing factor in the rise of vaccine hesitancy.
In the school year following the release of Covid vaccines, more parents were claiming vaccine exemptions: 2.6 percent in 2021-2022, compared to 2.2 percent in 2020-2021.
America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci admitted that Covid vaccine policies were ‘counterproductive’ and turned vaccine skeptics off of vaccinations rather than gain their favor.
Earlier this year, Dr Fauci told The New York Times, ‘Man, I think, almost paradoxically, you had people who were on the fence about getting vaccinated thinking, why are they forcing me to do this?
‘And that sometimes-beautiful independent streak in our country becomes counterproductive. And you have that smoldering anti-science feeling, a divisiveness that’s palpable politically in this country’.