250,000 children in kindergartens are vulnerable due to a drop in vaccination rates

250,000 children in kindergartens are vulnerable due to a drop in vaccination rates

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Nearly a quarter of a million kindergarten children 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, in a report released Thursday, found that 93 percent of kindergartners were up to date on state-required vaccines in the 2021-22 school year, a 2 percent drop from 2019-20.

“While this may not sound significant, it 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 on Thursday.

“And we know that measles, mumps and rubella vaccination coverage for children in kindergarten is the lowest it has been in more than a decade,” Peacock said.

Children in kindergartens are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella; chicken pox; polio; and diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Vaccination rates against measles, mumps and rubella were 93.5% in the 2021-22 school year, below the target coverage of 95% to prevent outbreaks.

An ongoing measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio, has spread to 83 children, 33 of whom were hospitalized. None of the children died. The majority of children, 78, were not vaccinated.

“These outbreaks are harming children and causing significant disruption to their opportunities to learn, grow and thrive,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Infectious Diseases Committee. ‚ÄúThis is alarming and should be a call to action for all of us.

The CDC report looked at whether children in kindergarten received the second dose of their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Two doses are 97% effective at preventing disease, and one dose is about 93% effective, according to the CDC.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads when someone coughs or sneezes and contaminates the air, where the virus can remain 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 percent of people close to them who lack immunity through vaccination or previous infection, according to the CDC.

Measles can be dangerous for children under 5, adults over 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 one 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 appears 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 catch up on those well-child visits.”

“We know that schools had a lot to focus on and in some cases they may not have been able to collect all that documentation about vaccinations,” Peacock said. “Or because the kids were at home for a lot of the pandemic, it might not have been the focus while they were focused on testing and doing all those other things related to the pandemic.”

In a separate report released Thursday, the CDC found that coverage for what’s known as the combined series of seven vaccines actually increased slightly among children born in 2018-19 until they turned two years old, compared with children born in 2016-17

This series of seven vaccines includes vaccines against measles, chicken pox, polio, hepatitis B, streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae or Hib, and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

However, the CDC found that there are large income and racial disparities. Vaccination coverage fell by up to 5% during the pandemic for people living below the poverty line 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 majority of parents still vaccinate their children. He said inequality was the bigger problem.

“The things we really need to focus on are addressing access and child poverty,” O’Leary said.

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