Seventeen states have a measles vaccination rate below 90% for preschool children, raising questions about policies that allow exemptions for nonmedical reasons in light of the measles outbreak spreading across the country.
Rates of preschooler vaccinations are typically lower than they are for school-age children because they are often not yet in a public school system that requires vaccinations for students.
Among kindergarteners, 94.7% have been vaccinated for measles, with a high of 99.7% in Mississippi and a low of 81.7% in Colorado, according to a new analysis by the Trust for America's Health. States have significantly different policies about allowing parents to opt out of the attendance requirements. Even within some states with high measles, mumps and rubella vaccination rates there are certain communities with large numbers of unvaccinated residents, making the areas vulnerable to measles and other preventable diseases.
Fewer than 90% of children ages 19-to-35 months have received the recommended vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) in 17 states, according to the new report.
“Sadly, there is a persistent preschooler vaccination gap in the United States. We're seeing now how leaving children unnecessarily vulnerable to threats like the measles can have a tragic result,” Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group focusing on public health, said statement. “We need to redouble our national commitment to improving vaccination rates.”
The federal government has set a national baseline national goal for preschooler MMR vaccinations at 90%. Health officials say the current national rate of 91.1% has helped reduce measles rates by 99% since 2000.
Achieving even higher vaccination rates would help protect even more people and increase “herd immunity” protection for the wider community.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend that every child receive a first dose of the MMR vaccine after reaching the age of 12 months. A second MMR dose is recommended for 4- to 6-year-olds.
Vaccination has become a matter of intense public debate amid a measles outbreak that began in California and has since spread to as many as 14 states. A total of 102 cases have been confirmed as of Jan. 30, according to the CDC.
The majority of those infected were unvaccinated.
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