Aug 29, 2023 - COVID

Massachusetts kindergarten vaccine exemption rate steady since 2012

Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Massachusetts kindergarten students are arriving at school exempt from the state's vaccine requirements at the same rate as about a decade ago.

  • The Bay State is bucking a national trend that's seen a spike in exemptions for young students amid the public debate over vaccine efficacy.

Driving the news: 1.4% of all kindergartners across Massachusetts were granted exemptions to required vaccines in the school year ending this past spring, the same rate as in 2012, per the latest state health statistics and CDC data.

  • That's a 40% increase over the 2021-2022 school year when only 1% of kindergarteners received exemptions.

Why it matters: Vaccinations reduce the spread of childhood illnesses — some potentially fatal — that once plagued the country, such as polio.

  • While children are generally required to get a number of vaccinations before attending public school, exemptions can be given for medical reasons and due to sincerely held religious views.
  • Studies have found an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children.

What we're watching: Beacon Hill lawmakers are considering legislation to completely eliminate the state's religious exemption option and standardize how schools report exemptions to the state.

  • All proposals would protect the existing medical exemption option.

Zoom out: The nationwide median kindergarten vaccine exemption rate was rising even before the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019.

  • It has stayed at 2.5% or higher since 2020, coming in at 2.7% in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

As of 2022, Idaho (9.8%), Utah (7.4%) and Oregon (7%) had the highest median kindergarten vaccination exemption rates.

  • Mississippi, New York and West Virginia were tied for the lowest, at 0.1%.

Between the lines: When it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot, 88% of Americans said the benefits outweigh the risks, compared to 10% who feel the opposite, per a recent Pew survey.

Yes, but: Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school, Pew found — down from 82% in the pre-pandemic era.

  • There's a significant partisan split, with 85% of Democrats agreeing with such a requirement compared to 57% of Republicans.

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