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Childhood vaccinations in the U.S. fall again, leaving kids at risk for preventable disease

Vaccination coverage among U.S. children has declined for the second year in a row, the CDC says.

Childhood vaccinations across the U.S. fell for a second year in a row, leaving hundreds of thousands of kids vulnerable to otherwise preventable illnesses.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 93% of children entering kindergarten during the 2021-22 school year were fully vaccinated.

That's a 1 percentage-point drop from the previous school year, when 94% of children had received all of their shots required to attend public school and meant to protect them from a variety of diseases, such as measles, polio, tetanus and chickenpox.

Before the pandemic, in the fall of 2019, 95% of kindergarteners were fully vaccinated.

The CDC report comes several weeks after a survey from KFF (formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation) reported that 28% of adults were against vaccination requirements for kids entering kindergarten, up from 16% in 2019.

The downward trend in vaccine coverage "is alarming," Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatrician and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases, said during a CDC-led media briefing Thursday.

Missed doctors' appointments during the Covid pandemic certainly played a role in missed routine shots. But fears stoked by vaccine misinformation have also been a growing problem, O'Leary said.

"We're still trying to understand the extent to which misinformation around Covid vaccines has spread to misinformation about other childhood vaccines," he said.

5 year-old Max Lahoda receives a Covid  vaccine in Los Angele
5 year-old Max Lahoda receives a Covid vaccine in Los Angeles, on Nov. 3, 2021.Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group via Getty Images file

Dr. Georgina Peacock, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, said during the briefing that misinformation is something the agency is watching very closely.

In a December interview, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, said vaccine misinformation is one of the biggest threats to public health.

Falling vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella — given together in the MMR vaccine — contributed to the decline in coverage. The CDC said the drop meant that nearly a quarter-million kindergartners were left defenseless against the most contagious virus in the world: measles.

"Measles, mumps and rubella vaccination coverage for kindergarteners is the lowest it has been in over a decade," Peacock said.

A measles outbreak in Ohio that started in November is still spreading, almost entirely among unvaccinated young children.

As of Thursday, Columbus Public Health has reported 83 cases, with 33 children hospitalized. Sixty-six percent of patients are age 5 or younger, and at least 78 of the 83 children have never received an MMR vaccine.

"These outbreaks harm children and caused significant disruptions in their opportunities to learn, grow and thrive," O'Leary said.

Vaccination for Covid also remains low among children. Among kids ages 6 months through 4 years old, 11% have had at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About a third of kids ages 5 through 11 have had two doses of a Covid vaccine.

A second CDC report published Thursday found a slight increase in routine vaccinations among babies and toddlers. About 70% of children born in 2018 and 2019 are up to date on recommended vaccines, the CDC said.

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